A Smart Guide For Driving Better Employee Development

Illustration by istockphoto.com
Illustration by istockphoto.com

Our brains are like forests — always growing and changing, and highly susceptible to their environment. When we’re in supportive, nurturing situations, we grow better and adapt to change more easily and much more effectively.

Some 14 years of research have driven Dr. David Rock of the Neuroleadership Institute to this conclusion, which he shared with attendees at last month’s SHRM Annual Conference in Chicago.

This is especially important for leaders to understand because their success is incumbent on their capacity to influence other people. But people have powerful levers inside their heads that are continuously influencing their behavior and neuroscience provides another approach to understanding employee behavior and bringing out the best in them.

How to engage employees and drive their development

Dr. Rock suggests the best things leaders can do to engage employees and increase their professional development is to reduce their perceived threats and to help them come to insights and conclusions on their own.

These recommendations are based on understanding the primal functions of the brain and the near impossible task of leaders being both coach and judge. Biologically, we are threatened by assessments of any kind, so even a well-liked manager will send our neurological threat meters into high gear when offering feedback or evaluating our performance.

Because “threats” stay with us far longer than “rewards,” Dr. Rock encourages leaders not to create threats they don’t have to, and to be mindful about how everyday business interactions can be perceived as threatening.

Guiding employees with the SCARF Model

He offers the SCARF Model as an effective guide to follow:

  • Status – Our brains process threats to our social status (when we are uncertain or being evaluated) as social pain. Social pain occurs in the same part of the brain as physical pain, so a social threat will be treated biologically just like a physical threat.

As a leader, don’t give feedback unless you really have to —  makes things worse 59 percent of the time. Instead, encourage employees to give feedback and ask questions of themselves. Good leaders facilitate insight, and this approach creates sustained behavioral change in the brain.

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  • Certainty – Ambiguity is worse than a clear threat to employees, and uncertainty is downright terrible.

Create crystal clear expectations for your team and don’t ignore them. I addressed this in detail in my last blog.

  • Autonomy – We need to know we have choices and can control our own destiny. Lack of control creates stress.

Don’t micromanage. Offer your staff opportunities to make decisions and control their own work as much as possible.

  • Relatedness – We evaluate everyone as friend or foe; trustful or distrustful, and when we can’t comfortably relate to them our brains don’t even process much of what they say.

Find commonalities with your teammates and create relationships with them so their brains will relate to you as friend rather than foe and your messages will be received.

  • Fairness – It is intrinsically rewarding and non-threatening.

Be open and obvious about treating people fairly and increase transparency wherever you can. There’s always been an art and a science to leadership—now you have neuroscience as a tool as well.

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women, one of the 25 Most Influential People in the incentive industry, and selected for the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, Michelle was inducted into the Incentive Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame and received their President’s and Karen Renk Fellowship Awards. She’s a highly accomplished international speaker, author, and strategist on leadership, company culture, workplace trends and employee engagement.

Michelle was the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine, and has been featured on Fox Television, the BBC, in Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and other global publications, and contributed to the books Bull Market by Seth Godin, Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, and Social Media Isn’t Social.   Connect with her via LinkedIn or Twitter