Why Neuroscience of change and Mental Agility are crucial skills if you are a Change Consultant, Agile Coach, Scrum Master, or HR

When leaders ask me “Do the X framework will work here?, the most important thing I want to address is the leader’s implicit premise that the framework will be getting better outcomes than in other competing companies. 

This generally means in their mind that the same practices and processes across all circumstances, departments, and people will be established and normalized.

This is a very interesting question because it can be used as an example of how we think about change. For example, if you are working with a large company that has been operating under the assumption that they have a great product and that customers will always buy it, then they might also assume that the framework will work well as a result of standardizing everything they do.

If the leader is working instead with a small group of people in the organization, then their thinking may be different than that. And this is because she would be able to see that it’s not about the framework and processes itself but how individuals increase their mental agility and embrace new values and principles to solve challenges. 

As a result of that, processes and practices can vary from one department to another. This is something to have in mind when you consider helping build a truly responsive company instead of just optimizing the I.T. teams.

A must skill to have is to understand how people try to solve a challenge, and how they can temporarily embrace different points of views and values.

This is what we call in Neuroscience of change Reframing. Reframing is a powerful set of cognitive techniques that allow us to analyze a problem from different perspectives, guiding people to temporarily think as the person with the problem or from the perspectives of those who observe the problem, or even the individuals who don’t believe there is a problem. This makes it possible to reach different conclusions and evaluate different assumptions.

Reframing is also important if you are going through a difficult situation as it helps regulate emotions and diminish conflict.

From the brain’s perspective, it encourages new neural connections and results in innovative ways of thinking that help the company evolve.

The crucial thing here is not about how the person sees the problem from another perspective, but how he or she can embrace temporary external values and principles that might be opposite to theirs.

The more “frames” a person can produce during a situation, the more flexible she or he will become.

In my book, I also connect the idea of reframing with Mental Agility, and explain many techniques and practices to increase it.

I believe that any company where their employees don’t have adequate levels of mental agility would struggle to build sustainable innovation or resilience.

So competitive advantage is not just about frameworks but about helping individuals to get high levels of mental agility.

To place all these concepts together, you need to know how the brain works, and here it’s where neuroscience of change comes into play.

As a change consultant, you need to acknowledge that we all have different mindsets. This is really important when you are looking to have teams with experts coming from extremely different disciplines.

A bank with remarkably good agile teams (I.T.) I helped in New Zealand a long time ago was looking to expand the agile mindset and practices to the rest of the firm.

They started building multi-functional groups all across the organization but somehow didn’t work as expected.

Some employees previously worked on their own (financial and risk evaluation peers) or with individuals with similar mindsets and they didn’t like the idea of working in new ways.

You need to consider that human capacity to adapt depends largely on our personality, environment, and the type of profession we have been doing for years.

As you can imagine, placing the focus on the framework or in standard agile practices would not work well in that bank.

The key to this challenge was to increase the mental agility of its members and to make sure that they have good working agreements that promote healthy behaviors.

So when we think about influencing change in a company like this, you should consider how well people are at experiencing a high number of different frames (mental agility).

In my opinion, the more reactive you are without the capacity to reframe problems, the worse your chances of success will be.

Additionally, fear can reduce the number of frames the brain evaluates. For example, when a person feels that she’ll lose prestige, power, or even her position in the company, that will activate an area of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is located in the center of your brain, which is where you store all your memories and information. It’s involved in the formation of new neural connections between neurons. This process is called synaptic transmission. The amygdala controls our emotions, thoughts and it’s aggressively triggered when you are under stress, fear, or situations where you might lose prestige or power.

It basically disconnects your high reasoning centers by flooding your head with certain hormones and prepares you for a fight or flight response. When this happens, your brain is on alert mode, and you are not able to produce the same number of “frames”.

During the last years, I dedicated most of my time (apart from working with clients) to try to understand what happens in the brain during agile change and which techniques are more adequate when you try to increase enterprise agility.

I would love to continue writing here but I believe it’d be easier to watch 2 videos I prepared for you.

The first one is a five-minute video where I explain a powerful tool based on the neuroscience of change called the “Pyramid of the change journey”.

The second requires an hour of your time and it’ll show you a few more change frameworks and tools you might be able to use in your organization to influence change.

I hope you enjoy them and learn something new. If so, please share it with your network!

Thanks for listening,

Erich

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