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Five Ways to Use Your Brain to Build a Better Business


April 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 4
by Michael Vaughan

Align work practices with how the brain functions to increase productivity, satisfaction

April 7, 2014

Business managers today face myriad challenges: a tight market with strong competition, workforce issues, slimming margins and the need to keep pace with technological advancements to name a few. Add to these a rapidly changing environment and a barrage of noise generated from the Internet, smartphones, television, and other media.

How can you stay in step with daily competing priorities and deadlines, filter out the noise, and keep business on the fast track to productivity and profitability? The answers can be found in neural leadership.

Neural leadership is part of brain science, which studies how the brain works and how business leaders can leverage brain function in themselves and their teams to create a more robust work environment.

It’s an exciting time for brain science. New insights and discoveries about brain function are being made every week, and the focus on neural leadership is forging the way. As Dr. David Rock, editor of the NeuroLeadership Journal, points out, increasing understanding of how the brain works can help align work practices with the brain’s affinity to create a more productive and successful workplace.

How can business managers better use their brains to understand what employees need psychologically in order to excel and perform? Adopting these five neural leadership practices can help you work better with your team to solve problems and make more informed strategic decisions:

1.  Foster fairness. Neuroscientists have discovered that when people feel they have been treated unfairly, activity is stimulated in the amygdala, the part of the brain that performs a primary role in processing memory and emotional reactions. In short, memories of being treated unfairly run deep, so it is better to err on the side of being fair than right. Understanding this innate need is helpful in creating relationships that focus on respect, acceptance, and equality. Maintain a fair environment, and synergy will likely be created among workers, who will unite to evaluate and find viable solutions to difficult problems.

2. Take a social approach. The human brain is a predominantly social organ that needs some level of socially driven interactions and goals. Most workplace cultures, however, focus on optimizing results instead of improving social interactions. The unintended consequence of focusing on results instead of people is that, over time, even top performers will feel devalued, less secure, or maybe even unfairly treated. This means that it’s important to inspire teams to be collaborative in their approach to getting the job done. Collaborative teams are productive teams and, over time, they will demonstrate enduring engagement and improved results.

3. Add sufficient sleep to the toolbox. If inventor Thomas Edison had slept more, he may have made fewer mistakes. Edison and many prominent thinkers in history have encouraged work over sleep. However, the brain needs sleep. Debates about why this is true are rampant among neuroscientists, but many good reasons come to light. During sleep, it is believed that the brain consolidates memories, makes new connections, conserves energy, and unconsciously chips away at problems. Getting enough rest also affects safety and the number of mistakes made. The best way to tell if a person is getting enough sleep is if he wakes up rested without the need for an alarm. During the workday, encourage workers to take a break, go for a walk, or enjoy lunch without checking phone messages or working—all in the interest of re-energizing and recharging their brains. Step away from the caffeine and be sure to get 40 winks, as well. Finally, recognize teams for a job well done. Their brains will release dopamine, which is a natural energy booster.

4. Pay attention to one task at a time. When tasks compete for the same limited mental resources, the quality of the results of all tasks is diminished. In other words, the benefits of multi-tasking are vastly overrated. Most notably, prolonged multi-tasking causes a decline in and erosion of the quality of thought and energy. In other words, it’s probably not in anyone’s best interests to try to work on a report, review contracts, and solve a member dispute at the same time. Stop multi-tasking and focus on one item at a time to avoid the inability to fully process each discrete task.

5. Stop predicting. People are wired to predict and, in fact, they automatically try to make sense of any situation by predicting what will happen next. The danger in creating predictions is that most are inaccurate or incomplete. With experience, the ability to make predictions will improve. However, holding on to a prediction may stop a person from seeking new perspectives that can help set a better strategy or make a better decision. To break the prediction cycle, teach workers how to recognize when they are jumping to conclusions and encourage them to suspend judgment long enough to entertain alternative solutions.

Michael Vaughan is CEO of The Regis Company, a global provider of business simulations and experiential learning programs. He is also the author of The Thinking Effect: Rethinking Thinking to Create Great Leaders and the New Value Worker and The End of Training: How Business Simulations Are Reshaping Business. Contact Vaughan at mvaughan@regiscompany or follow his blog at www.thethinkingeffect.com.

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