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Craving Certainty

Whether you like it or not your brain is full of hidden agendas…

We’ve had the pleasure of a little Neuroscience research recently, let’s give you a quick summary of our work…

Regardless of our philosophical beliefs about free will, neuroscience tells us that our brains are determinist. That is, everything that we do is determined, not by our conscious self making choices, but by our unconscious self, based on all our previous experiences and our natural impulses.

We’ll prepare ourselves for the inevitable barrage of emails on that point.

From producing chemicals that make you want that doughnut to watching another episode on Netflix (when you should be writing that important email), the brain’s inbuilt objectives are often very different from the goals we set ourselves in our most rational and motivated moments.

If we were able to recognise the things our brain naturally wants, we would put ourselves in a better position for understanding our decisions.

One of these innate desires that our brains has is for certainty.

The brain craves certainty in virtually the same way as it craves food, sleep and sex.  You get a kick out of getting information that makes you more certain, and alternatively have a strong threat response to uncertainty about what will happen in the future.

Consider the stress you feel when you show up for a meeting just to find that no one is there.  Your first response might be to check the time, then your emails to see if you got it right, ask if this is the right room, call someone who is meant to be at the meeting…

Throughout the ordeal you will probably be on edge and uncomfortable as your brain scrambles for ways of getting the information it lacks.

In the same way, the first thing people will do when they get to the airport is look for their departure time and gate on the information screens.  This is because your brain is a prediction machine.  It collects patterns from its environment, then it stockpiles these memories and uses them to make predictions.

It does this by transferring the things it has seen before and applying it to an event taking place.  In order to do this the brain draws on data from all of our senses. According to his book The Biology of Belief,  Dr. Bruce Lipton says there are about 40 environmental cues you can consciously pay attention to at any time, but when you include the subconscious – this number is over two-million!

Many accounting and consulting companies charge huge sums to executives in exchange for reassuring information through theories, strategies, data, and projections.  But the future is inherently uncertain and there is no crystal ball (as Brexit has shown us).

From our brain’s perspective, the ability to predict the future well is the difference between life and death and we take this subconsciously to work with us.

Companies need to be aware that uncertainty is unsettling for everyone involved and this can lead to indecisiveness and a loss of focus.

Giving people information is incredibly important for them to feel comfortable in the workplace, but the next step of our research suggests that we can train our minds to resist the effects of uncertainty.  Something we suspected a little while ago.

Watch this space as we’ll be publishing here all of our latest findings as we get to grips with the new insights coming out from the labs of neuroscientists.  You can sign up to our Pow Wow list to be kept informed.

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When in Rome…

Managing people across cultural divides

We recently had the privilege of travelling to the beautiful Italian town of Cremona near Milan to deliver the people management aspect of a new business management qualification there.

Given how often we get asked whether challenges are the same across Europe / the World and how much cultural difference needs to be considered, we thought we would share our findings and reflections:

Even in a more direct, ‘say what you think’ culture, feedback is still a problem.  Feedback is not simply about telling someone what you think of them, it’s critical that the message is understood and the individual wants to change their behaviour.

Helping delegates consider what outcome they wanted and then use better questioning to find out what reaction someone was having to the feedback, made the difference here, just like it does in the UK and every other country we have worked in, including the US and Asia.  And that backs up our learning from our previous escapades here…

People Management is not for everyone and we would all do better to acknowledge this.  Just as financial management is not for everyone and we build coping mechanisms around that, how do we do the same for people management?

One delegate realised he could make better use of someone in his team who is far better at the honest conversations.  It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

Accountability for behaviour change is the greatest challenge.  This is a battle we fight on every programme – how to help delegates change their behaviour back in the workplace.

A hugely helpful move here has been to share stories from people who have been through the programme before, tried, failed, learned from experience and succeeded.

In Italy, we closed the programme with delegates showing a more realistic outlook on what they could do and what they couldn’t, working in tune with their reality.

Whilst it is comforting to know we are not alone with our learning challenges in the UK, this begs the question, why are these issues so prevalent?  The answer appears to be a lack of quality and quantity of focused on-the-job learning in these areas.

Take on any other new task: using new software, introducing a new process or system, taking on budget management for the first time, and there are guides to follow and people to ask.  When it comes to considering our suitability for people management and working out how to have difficult conversations, there tends to be less structure.

There are fewer “how-to guides” available and most line managers will not initiate a conversation with the individual in their team about their skills and confidence in people management.  Why should they?  Who did that for them?

This is an opportunity for all of us in learning, to help managers take on these conversations, so that new managers can be better prepared in their roles.

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