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We need a management revolution

We need a management revolution

It is about time that management teams start to manage their employees in a way that recognizes how the human brain functions. The majority of today’s corporations are being managed using principles that are out-dated and we need to start a management revolution!


The emerging field of neuroscience is giving enlightened executives fuel for such a revolution in the form of insight into the brain - with important management and leadership implications.


The Brain & The Workplace  


Some examples of how neuroscience is helping challenge current management and leadership practices are:


  • It is our nature to be easily distracted but our workplace environments provide a multitude of distractions and little time for quality thinking. Neuroscience reveals that innovation requires focus, attention and quiet time.
  • We don’t understand the importance of emotions in human communications. Our work cultures tend to emphasize suppressing emotions but neuroscience reveals that this activates our limbic systems and depletes resources from our prefrontal cortices. This makes us less smart, is bad for memory (emotions are important in memory retention) and creates a threat response in others.
  • The human brain is social and huge amounts of the brain are dedicated to social interaction. The same brain network for feeling physical pain is used for feeling social pain. Yet the majority of work cultures deny this reality and work against the five components of the SCARF mode (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness).
  • Attention itself changes the brain. However, the majority of corporate change management initiatives do not focus employees’ attention on fewer key priorities.


The Social Brain, Collaboration & the Workplace


Important neuroscience research has concluded that the human brain has mirror neurons that play an important role to imitate others and to understand what is going on in their minds. In other words, our brains are designed to connect with each other. There is likely an evolutionary reason for this as our ability to collaborate to overcome inevitable threats in the environment is essential.


Matthew Lieberman, one of the foremost authorities in the world on the study of social neuroscience, presents us with some important insights related to “the pains and pleasures of social living”. Some of Lieberman’s perspectives are:


·       Social connection is as, if not more important, than food, water and shelter as basic human needs. It evolved so that all these fundamental needs cause pain.


·       Social pain is real –like physical pain. It takes longer to recover from social injuries than physical ones. Brain circuits involving physical pain are the same ones involving social pain.


·       Being treated unfairly causes social pain. Conversely, receiving positive feedback about job performance activates the reward circuitry of the brain.


The business world has not caught on to these critical concepts yet. Lieberman, in his brilliant book Social, writes that, "Most organizations don't get "social" right. They don't feel like families and they don't feel like a positive part of one's social life. Given what we know about the social brain, creating the right social environment in our places of work should be a top priority for anyone who wants the best out of themselves and those around them."


The business world has been conditioned to focus on left-brain activities centered on numbers, logic, planning, analysis, financial results, technology, etc. Additionally, we seem to celebrate individuals who work on their own and achieve great things. Lieberman debunks all of this - "The assumption that productivity is about smart people working hard on their own has been masking the fact that individual intelligence may only be optimized when it is enhanced through social connections to others in the group."


It is high time that senior managers recognize the innate human need to connect with others and build this into their organizational structures, training programs and organizational cultures. In fact, this is the key to reversing employee disengagement scores which are, on average, in the 50-75% range.


The Revolution Has Begun!


Management and leadership practices must change in recognition of the social and emotional nature of the human brain. Thankfully, it seems that the newer generation of companies, unencumbered by decades of management thinking based on early twentieth century work environments, have introduced modern management practices that  not only engage their employees but are instrumental in rallying their workforces to achieve concrete business objectives. Some examples are:


  • Google understands that employees, in order to generate insights that move the business ahead, need to have some down time (thus, their 20% down time policy).
  • Companies like Zappos and SAS have implemented HR policies that recognize the social and emotional realities of the human brain – with excellent results related to employee engagement and business growth.
  • Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, has implemented a series of principles at the company that recognize the need to have employees work collaboratively (leverage their social brains) and accept and even embrace change (recognize the brain’s natural tendency to resist change) – with obvious great success.


When will leaders in the rest of the business world take note and teach their managers to lead their employees based on a new understanding of how the human brain functions? Thankfully, companies like Google, Zappos, SAS and Twitter have instituted management and leadership practices that challenge the status quo and the results have been impressive.


So, to all you managers out there – stop sitting on the fence and join the revolution!

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