Rewiring brains: Neuroplasticity at the Workplace

Jun 30
Neuroplasticity or Neural Plasticity is also called Brain Plasticity.

It is a unique ability of the brain, where the neural networks or connections in the brain change to adapt to growth, change, or restructuring. In simple words, neural plasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt to changes in an individual’s environment by forming new neural networks. It is one of the fundamental properties of the brain that enables an individual to adapt. This ability can come in handy in workplaces, particularly in the implementation of DEI initiatives, which are often resisted by employees because of the changes that these initiatives usually entail.

Re-modelling workplaces

A study by McKinsey reports that around 70% of corporate development initiatives fail. The science behind this is nothing but the human nature of ‘resistance to change’. When substantial change needs to be brought about, it requires people to exert energy and effort, which is usually kept aside for tasks that the brain is familiar with. Let’s face it: There is quite a bit of change involved when it comes to DEI implementation. For example, an organization that is truly committed to DEI needs to invest time and resources in diversifying the workforce, implementing inclusive policies, providing diversity training, addressing pay equity, conducting regular DEI assessments, and more. Change makes people anxious because there is uncertainty and the possibility of failure or loss.

Additionally, if there is a lack of understanding of why certain changes are ushered in and the benefits of these changes, people resist the change with all their might. Unfortunately, DEI continues to be an abstruse topic among a significant chunk of employees.

It is precisely for these reasons that DEI efforts are often met with trepidation and disinterest in the workplace. When employees are not fully on board with the organizational DEI goals, it can derail the cultural development of the organization. Individuals, who are unable to acknowledge and accept the differences of others can make the inclusion efforts of the company seem like a woke-washing strategy, done simply to improve the company’s reputation and not because of real commitment to inclusion.

How can organizations work around this?

A market study by Global Industry Analysts Inc reports that the global market for DEI was estimated at US$7.5 Billion in the year 2020. And this is projected to reach a revised size of US$15.4 Billion by 2026. As DEI stands as the overarching goal of most organizations, the fundamental aspect of change must happen at the grassroots level, which means it is the people of the organization who need to drive change.

How can organizations achieve this?

Among the many solutions for this problem, embracing neuroplasticity and putting it to best use is one of the most rational approaches to get people to wholeheartedly support and participate in DEI initiatives. Many organizations have successfully used neuroscience to bring about changes in their functions. For example, Google uses neuroplasticity to help its employees reduce their stress and increase their productivity. Through a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme, employees are trained in mindfulness techniques including meditation, breathing exercises, and body awareness. IBM has also leveraged neuroscience to help their salespeople become more effective. Using role-playing and other interactive exercises the ThinkSales programme at IBM aims to develop neural pathways in their employees, thereby improving communication and customer satisfaction.

Here is how to leverage the benefits of neuroplasticity and use it to remodel workplaces.
Sandra McDowell, an expert in the application of neuroscience for leadership and the founder of eLeadership Academy, has curated a four-factor flowchart that outlines four key factors that can help rewire the brain and support growth. But it is important to note that for the process to work, the individual needs to commit to following it. So here are the steps:

Care: It is important to take care of one’s brain, and one critical way to do it is by reducing stress. Organizations need to create a supportive and an inclusive environment where work-life balance, breaks and time-off are encouraged; workplace issues like bias and bullying are addressed promptly; and sound resources are provided for professional development and mental well-being.

Notice: The next step is to become aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and abilities. Organizations can enable this by using personality assessment tools, encouraging self-reflection exercises, providing them with opportunities to receive constructive feedback through 360-degree feedback questionnaires, and fostering a culture of openness and kindness.

Expect: Next comes clear goal setting. Organizations can help their employees set clear goals and communicate their expectations with clarity, by providing regular feedback, making sure employee goals are aligned to the organization’s goals, and using efficient AI tools and goal-setting apps.

Focus: This is the most critical stage where one pays attention to the change they want to see. That is, the employees focus their attention on the skills and behaviour they want to develop.

By doing this, one strengthens the neural connections linked to these new skills and new neural pathways are developed, which support growth and development. When one constantly works towards a desired outcome with singular focus and intentionality, success is assured.

These steps will create an environment where employees can thrive, making it possible for them to be welcome to change and adapt to the changes relatively smoothly. Let’s keep in mind that adaptability is a critical skill for survival, and embracing neuroplasticity is a solid way to develop it.