How to Engage Stakeholders with Brain-Friendly Change

Updated: Feb 8



Viewing change through the lenses of emotional intelligence and neuroscience provides a deeper understanding of human behaviour and motivations allowing us to influence and engage stakeholders with brain friendly change initiatives.



A SUCCESSFUL CHANGE INITIATIVE RELIES ON OUR ABILITY TO SUCCESSFULLY INFLUENCE AND ENGAGE STAKEHOLDERS


Have you ever spotted a threat or opportunity which requires a change of strategy, direction, or behaviour from your organisation, but struggled to identify ways to be heard, achieve buy-in and to successfully influence the change required?


You’re not alone. Anyone within the field of organisational change is acutely aware that a significant number of change initiatives will fail. The strategy might be exactly the right thing for the greater good of the organisation, but this doesn’t mean people within the organisation will want to implement it.


Successful change requires successful mobilisation of a multitude of stakeholders, each with their own projects, goals and personal aspirations. Failure to acknowledge this or to seek a better understanding of what is likely to motivate or demotivate the key stakeholders in any change initiative is highly likely to dictate a negative outcome.



WHAT CAN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE TEACH US ABOUT CHANGE AND ENGAGEMENT?


The fields of emotional intelligence and neuroscience provide us with invaluable insights when implementing change and engagement initiatives for our clients.


Viewing change through the lenses of emotional intelligence and neuroscience provides the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of stakeholder behaviours and motivations. The most emotionally intelligent people are able to put themselves in others’ shoes and in doing so are most likely to be able to answer a crucial question when seeking to engage and motivate stakeholders; “what’s in it for me?”.



‘WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?’ WILL VARY FROM STAKEHOLDER TO STAKEHOLDER


Satisfying the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question will vary from stakeholder to stakeholder according to where they may be on the change journey, their past experiences, how much of an impact the change is likely to have etc etc. When providing support to a financial services client in a recent change initiative we were able to pinpoint numerous responses to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question. It is often presumed that a financial incentive will provide the necessary carrot on a stick to ensure buy in from certain stakeholders, but in reality, many feel more rewarded by the opportunity to champion elements of a project and the opportunity for self-development that goes with it.


The more we can develop our emotional intellgence and also our knowledge and understanding of neuroscience and human behaviour, the more we are able to influence and engage and stakeholders with brain friendly change.



MUCH OF OUR BEHAVIOUR AND MOTIVATION IS DRIVEN BY OUR NEED TO MINIMISE THREAT AND MAXIMISE REWARD


So what do we mean by brain-friendly change? When considering what may prompt individuals to act, respond or behave in a certain way, neuroscientist, Evian Gordon suggests that much of our motivation driving social behaviour is governed by an overarching principle of minimising threat and maximising reward. If we move to a threat state, we are likely to become withdrawn and seek to detach ourselves from a situation – which is bad news if it is our change initiative that has triggered that threat response.


To contextualise these fundamental principles of threat and reward it is useful to break them down into five social domains; certainty, autonomy, relationship, equity and status (CARES). Understanding the role that each of the social domains plays can ensure that leaders avoid practices that trigger counter-productive threat responses which, in change scenario, have the potential to derail a project.


Again, thinking about our financial services client’s dilemma, what neuroscience tells us is that equity as perceived by an individual in the workplace can produce more dopamine – the brain’s reward response – than money. Another example is the impact certainty or lack of it can have within a change scenario.



IN THIS ABSENCE OF CERTAINTY INDIVIDUALS TEND TO SPECULATE, TRIGGERING A THREAT RESPONSE


In the absence of certainty, individuals tend to speculate, a threat response is triggered leading to feelings of stress and anxiety. High certainty is likely to trigger a reward response which contributes to a reduction in anxiety even if the facts deliver bad news. This underlines the importance of minimising uncertainty during change to reduce the potential for any feelings of anxiety and negative associations which then may travel through the organisation.


As specialists in change and engagement, the fields of emotional intelligence and neuroscience provide us with invaluable insights when implementing change initiatives for our clients. These fields of knowledge provide the ability to understand and to a certain extent, predict human behaviour, which is quite possibly the most powerful tool available to those wishing to implement successful brain friendly change.


Jennie Flower, Business Development, Emotional Intelligence and Neuroleadership Specialist, Minerva Engagement


Minerva Engagement provides support to its clients using applied neuroscience to improve individual, team and organisational performance and wellbeing. Specialists in the areas of communication, change, engagement and leadership development the Minerva team understands what it takes to improve business performance through the people that make the organisation. For more details on how we can support your business click here.



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