Training Industry Magazine - March/April 2018 - 11

SCIENCE OF LEARNING
SRINI PILLAY, M.D.

BRAIN-BASED STRATEGIES

TO NAVIGATE CHANGE

Although change is part of the natural
evolution of organizations, it creates
chaos or psychological tension in the
brain called cognitive dissonance. If
you peered into the brain while this was
happening, you would see its conflict
detector actively engaged - a sign that
it is letting go of the past to proceed in a
new and unknown direction.
Leading change essentially implies that
your brain will have to lead the conflict
detectors in the brains of all employees.
It is a little like being a conductor
of an orchestra, where the goal is
harmony, with a constant threat of
absolute cacophony. As you engage the
audience, a few brain-based principles
would help you extract the music from
this occasion.
BOOST BRAIN REWARD FOR CHANGE
Involve all stakeholders in the choice.
We often like what we choose, whether
it's better for us or not. And we reject
things that we can't have, even if we
want them. This bias is called choiceinduced preference change (CIPC).
For example, in a recent study,
participants were asked to walk across a
campus quadrangle wearing a costume
reminiscent of Carmen Miranda.
Another group of people were asked to
push themselves uphill on a skateboard.
When participants felt like they made a
choice as opposed to being told to do
something, they felt that people around
them were less hostile, and the slope
was shallower.

When we are part of a choice, such as the
direction of a new strategy, or shifting
budgets for innovation, we assign a
higher value to that choice compared to
when we are not part of that choice. Brain
regions that assign value communicate
this to other regions that will facilitate
the change.
ACTIVATE THE BRAIN'S RECALL
OF PARTICIPATION
Remind people that they are part of
a choice. CIPC works with one caveat:
you have to remember that you made
a choice. You may have passively
answered a survey and forgotten that
you communicated a preference. If that
happened, CIPC does not occur. A recent
study found that CIPC occurs only when
the brain's episodic memory processor
(the hippocampus) is activated. So even
if you think that people have been part
of a change decision, reiterate this to
them. It will help decrease the resistance
to change.
CIPC is a form of rationalization, and the
brain's rationalization regions are indeed
very active during this process. Also,
they are activated almost immediately
after the choice, so they powerfully
determine the success of proceeding in
the new direction.
ACTIVATE THE BRAIN'S AWARENESS
OF THE NEED FOR CHANGE
Ask people to assess the magnitude of
significance of the new direction. The
left frontal cortex is a key brain region
that must activate to keep pursuing new
directions. And you can turn this region

on by spelling out why the new direction
is better than the old one. On its own,
the change may be undesirable, but
compared to the alternatives, its value
may be more obvious.
Also, this region is turned on when you
feel more self-control. But beware of the
consequences of too much self-control.
It will deplete your brain's energy stores.
If you truly want people to change,
build "un-focus" time into the company
culture. Change takes energy, and you
have to manage brain energy well if
you want people to feel energized by
the change.

LEADING CHANGE
IS LIKE BEING A
CONDUCTOR OF
AN ORCHESTRA.
SUMMARY
When asking people to participate in an
organizational change, help them rewire
their brains. Make them authentically
feel like they contributed to the choice.
Remind them that they did, and help
them see why the new direction is
better. Throughout this process, help
them manage their brain energy well.
When they do, they will be motivated to
bear the chaos and tension that comes
with change.
Dr. Srini Pillay is the CEO of NeuroBusiness
Group. He is also assistant professor (parttime) at Harvard Medical School and
teaches in the executive education programs
at Harvard Business School and Duke CE.
Email Srini.

T R A I N I N G I N DUSTR Y MA GAZ INE - LEAD THE CHANGE 20 18 I WWW. T RAININGINDU S T RY . C OM/ MAGAZ I NE

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3622034/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3009797/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4733340/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3009797/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5256105/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150852/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150852/ https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/aea3/2a2d5a76f2f7c9cab957a4ed160bc8648fb8.pdf https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/aea3/2a2d5a76f2f7c9cab957a4ed160bc8648fb8.pdf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/17894610/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18179314 https://www.trainingindustry.com/magazine

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Training Industry Magazine - March/April 2018

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