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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Execution of Strategy Requires Change

The successful execution of strategy ultimately requires a change in the behavior of employees.

New research conducted over the last two decades has produced a more accurate view of human behavior change resulting from an integration of psychology (the study of the human mind and human behavior) and neuroscience (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain).

An article titled “The Neuroscience of Leadership“, from Strategy+Business provides an interesting discussion on organisational change, some of the interesting points raised in the article are:

Some key points from the research:

  • Change Is Pain: Organizational change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort. Trying to change any hardwired habit requires a lot of effort, in the form of attention. This often leads to a feeling that many people find uncomfortable. So they do what they can to avoid change.
  • Behaviorism doesn’t work: Change efforts based on incentive and threat (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run. Present the right incentives, and the desired change will naturally occur…… Yet there is plenty of evidence from both clinical research and workplace observation that change efforts based on typical incentives and threats (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run.
  • Humanism is overrated: In practice, the conventional empathic approach of connection and persuasion doesn’t sufficiently engage people. This phenomenon provides a scientific basis for some of the practices of leadership coaching. Rather than lecturing and providing solutions, effective coaches ask pertinent questions and support their clients in working out solutions on their own…. People can detect the difference between authentic inquiry and an effort to persuade them.
  • Focus is power: The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain.
  • Expectation shapes reality: People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive. How, then, would you go about facilitating change? The impact of mental maps suggests that one way to start is by cultivating moments of insight. Large-scale behavior change requires a large-scale change in mental maps.
  • Attention density shapes identity: Repeated, purposeful, and focused attention can lead to long-lasting personal evolution. For insights to be useful, they need to be generated from within, not given to individuals as conclusions.
  • Mindful Change in Practice. Start by leaving problem behaviors in the past; focus on identifying and creating new behaviors. Over time, these may shape the dominant pathways in the brain. This is achieved through a solution-focused questioning approach that facilitates self-insight, rather than through advice-giving.

BOTTOMLINE: "Perhaps you are thinking, “This all sounds too easy. Is the answer to all the challenges of change just to focus people on solutions instead of problems, let them come to their own answers, and keep them focused on their insights?” Apparently, that’s what the brain wants."

(Tip of the hat to George Amber at The Practice of Leadership)

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