The complexity and uncertainty of business environment today have raised the expected standards of employee performance. An organization often segregates strategy into two parts – business and people with the onus lying on the business leader and the HR team of the organization to drive these two successfully. And as we all know, the experience of an employee at the workplace today plays a critical role in defining the future growth of a company. Therefore, it is imperative for the Human resource function of any organization, along with the line managers to shoulder the responsibility of employee experience in spheres of performance, learning, motivation and change.
So, the big question is – Where does Neuroscience play a role in all this or how does Neuroscience help in organizational growth? Let us begin by first understanding the true meaning of Neuroscience. Neuroscience is a study of nervous system and human brain specifically in areas of motivation, stress, learning, attention, memory, sleep, perception and behaviour. In other words, it is an investigation of how individuals really function!
Understanding and application of neuroscience can have a significant impact in the way the Human Resources function operates and manages the most important lever of organization growth. To understand what drives human behaviour, it is imperative to gain the knowledge of how their brain functions. A rather easy parallel to this would be-to be able to become a good driver, it is important to first understand the basics functioning of car- the engine, gear, brakes and accelerator.
Neuroscience and Employee Motivation:
I would now like to I want to draw your attention to dopamine- a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain. The brain has multiple dopamine pathways of which one is directly linked to reward and motivated behaviour. As per studies, high level of dopamine makes people work harder by encouraging them to maximize a predicted reward or minimize a predicted punishment.
The Human Resource function, through its processes and practises, can play a key role in keeping the dopamine flowing. A few practises which boost the employee motivation by increasing the dopamine level are-
- Setting smaller, sub-goals of a larger goal. Accounting and celebrating achievement of these incremental goals results in positive reinforcement in the brain and therefore a spike in the flow of Dopamine.
- Communicating the feedback, regular check-ins with employees about the achievements/good performance leads to getting the work recognized therefore resulting to more positive feedback.
Neuroscience and Employee Learning
Most traditional learning programs are classroom driven and address only the symptoms not the root cause or issue of performance or behaviour. Bundling too much of information in a short space of time creates overload (stress, fatigue and exhaustion) and leads to less learning.
The neuroscience-based learning approach attempts to create new sub-conscious brain patterns which take time to build and reinforced. Some key learning practises backed by neuroscience-
- Promote an experiential learning environment allowing people to get into their “flow”- a state of deep engagement and creativity. As per studies on neuroscience of play, learning is most effective when the individual is in a positive emotional state. Simulations, gamification etc are some examples which indulge the senses in fun leading to better retention and long-lasting impact.
- Encourage active learning- a cognitive process which involves three parts of the brain- neocortex (evaluation and analysis), hippocampus (consolidation of information from short term memory to long term memory) and amygdala (helps the brain identify the salient points of new inputs).
Active Learning approach
- Gives control to the participants- what they should learn,
- Helps them see how it fits their long-term goals
- Allows real-life application
- Encourages real-time checks on progress/learning
- Promotes collaborative learning- opportunity to teach others
And finally, Neuroscience and Organizational Change
Our brains have been wired to avoid threat and function with a key objective of survival. Our working environments are changing at an unfathomable pace while the working of our brain hasn’t changed. The first reaction of our brains is still to avoid change and any predicted threat.
During any kind of organizational change, the first reaction of the employees is to predict and look for the safe anchor and certainty. In absence of any clear communication, the employees respond with “flight” or “fight” emotions.
A few practises that HR can follow to make employees more comfortable during the process of ongoing change are as follows-
- Create a positive outlook. Reminiscence of past glory and achievement first and then setting out the next challenge could do the trick here.
- Involve employees in decision making. Our brain prefers control over the situation. Allowing people to become a part of the decision-making process increases the chances of acceptance. Let employees defend the change by finding and presenting reasons for the same.
- Transparent top-down communication arrests the ambiguity in the mind and help the employees be better prepared with what is coming their way.
Looking through the lens of neuroscience have also helped us identify our future leaders, optimise talent pool and provide specific L&D opportunities for lateral growth and being future ready.
Application of neuroscience in HR is not just about making employees happy, it is in fact a razor-sharp approach for creating the kind of environment that facilitates meaningful engagement of employees with the employer.