While attending a client’s annual business briefing, I was impressed by how much they had achieved in a year and was surprised by the impact this had on them. They had done really well and achieved a lot, but their staff survey showed that instead of feeling good about it, people had ended up feeling worse.
So, what had happened?
As many organisations do, they had been through a lot of change whilst scoping out their new IT system. Slowly, and unconsciously, they had started to split into two camps; those who were keeping the organisation going and their customers happy (the ‘boring stuff’), and those who were working on the new future for the organisation (the ‘exciting stuff’). On top of this, lots of people had left and many new people had joined.
The bottom line, as the staff survey reported, was that it wasn’t the same there anymore. People didn’t feel connected, they didn’t feel in control and they didn’t have the certainty they once had.
It reminded me of the research that Amy Brann reports on in her book Make Your Brain Work. She provides information on the Synaptic Circle, a neuroleadership model she created, which covers the basics all leaders need to be aware of from a brain perspective of how people work.
The Synaptic Circle includes confidence, certainty, culture, celebration, control, connection, and contribution. What the research tells us, is that if we do not have our needs fully met in each of these areas, it starts to undermine our performance and it impacts how we feel about ourselves and ultimately, how we interact with others.
- Confidence – As Amy points out, leaders need to be confident in themselves, which can be quite difficult in times of change, but when leaders are uncertain or are indecisive it makes the people around them anxious. Leaders need to work on their own self-confidence, and remember that it’s contagious!
- Certainty – We all like to know where we stand and what is expected of us. During times of change it is difficult to give people certainty. Leaders need to recognise that and find ways to help people cope during periods of uncertainty.
- Culture – Every organisation has its own culture and it is important to recognise what that culture is and how people are likely to behave as a result of it. The current research shows that culture shapes cognition, so it is important that the culture is a positive one.
- Celebration – Amy explains that, in neuroscientific terms, celebration is anything that triggers the neurological reward system. The research shows that when something triggers the reward system, dopamine is released in the brain. It gives us a ‘feel good’ feeling and has positive effects on cognition, memory, attention and problem solving.
- Control – When people feel out of control, it can trigger their fight or flight response. If you have to suppress that fight or flight response on a daily basis it can lead to stress. Giving people autonomy is one way to help them gain control and leaders should look for ways to do this wherever possible.
- Connection – When we do not feel connected, or when we feel isolated, ostracized or ignored, the neurochemicals that flood our body are the same as when we are in physical pain, or as Amy puts it, ‘a productivity kiss of death’. Even those of us who like our own company still need to feel part of something and to be involved.
- Contribution – When we contribute and feel that the part we play is worthwhile it makes us feel good and has the same impact as celebration, releasing dopamine. And, the more we can trigger that, the better!
My client had intuitively checked the Synaptic Circle and had established a number of areas that were not working well. People had lost the feeling of connection, some felt isolated and left out, those working to keep the organisation going did not feel as good about their contribution as they once had, and even those working on the new projects had not taken the time to celebrate their successes. The knock-on effect was a loss of confidence and trust, and uncertainty about the culture “it’s not the same here anymore”.
So, what did they do?
They decided to come clean and communicate all of this, to help people have more confidence and trust in them, and to provide more certainty about the future. They didn’t stop there though! They also arranged sessions to help people feel more connected, where they could get to know each other better and, at the event I attended, they celebrated their successes.
For more information on how to apply the Synaptic Circle, why not take a look at our free webinar download where Amy Brann and I look at how to Lead with Your Brain Switched On.
Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning
Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.