It is tempting to believe that one’s own time is facing the most rapid, disruptive rate of change ever experienced. Certainly Shakespeare must have thought so. During his life, the following things happened:
- The ruling military power in the civilized world changed from Spain to England with the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
- Galileo and others proved the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around.
- The Protestant Reformation fractured the existing religion of the western world into dozens of other Christian faiths, challenging religious beliefs that had stood for centuries.
- A new method of sharing information rapidly (the printing press) made it possible for news to travel the world much faster than ever before.
- The first microscopes revealed that our world is filled with microbes, a revelation seen before.
- New weapons based on gunpowder made it possible to kill someone from a distance.
- A new world was “discovered” and exciting new trade routes opened up.
So we could just reframe the question to ask, “How can we maintain high levels of performance, since unrelenting change is a given?” While educational neuroscience is still in its infancy, it already suggests several strategies to help employees stay at peak performance during change. Here are a few of them:
Tap into the brain’s reward circuitry.
When we are doing something we like, we naturally seek it out. The brain’s reward system is a built-in learning tool, helping us to improve performance by making top performance feel good. When exposed to a rewarding stimulus, the brain responds by increasing release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, stimulating a repeat of the behavior so that we can get that wonderful feeling again. Performance rewards can be as simple and personal as a good word from a colleague or supervisor, or as carefully orchestrated as a company-wide game board that recognizes top performers on a regular basis.
Provide learning and support at the point of performance.
I recently switched to Microsoft 365 and I’ve been enjoying the tips and hints that are built into the software. The algorithms built into the application are smart enough to recognize my work patterns and let me know when a more efficient approach is available to me. I’ve learned more shortcuts and best practices in the past month than I could have picked up in day of formal training. I don’t even have to commit the tip to memory right away. If I need more than one repetition to make the new behavior “stick” the software will continue to remind me. The Microsoft application, is a great example of how an “always on” chatbot coach can ensure high levels of performance while employees are dealing with change on a daily basis.
Develop a Resilient Mindset
When you think about our evolutionary history, it is remarkable that any of us are here at all. Human beings have never been the strongest or fastest animals on the planet, so we had to develop a different “super-power.” Our brains have evolved to withstand change and find a way to cope and even thrive in hostile environments. Today, we call that trait “resiliency.” In a world where change is constant, many of your employees are likely suffering from some level of chronic stress, which makes it even harder to adapt to change. There are specific strategies that have been proven to reduce stress. Meditation, mindfulness and improved nutrition can all help develop a stronger, more resilient response to change, so that performance doesn’t suffer every time a new procedure is introduced. A resilient mind is a sign of a more plastic brain, able to reconfigure itself to respond to any challenge the world can throw at it. Neuroplasticity, it turns out, is the secret behind our “super-power.”
Teach People How to Learn
Your brain is so good at learning new things that it can literally do it while you sleep. Yet, most people don’t know how to learn efficiently. Studies have shown that people who are given a few insights into how their brain learns pick up new skills more quickly and remember them longer. If you have a limited budget for training, invest in developing the superpower of learning first.
Change is always with us, but performance doesn’t have to take a hit. Employing sound learning principles based on neuroscience can keep your business humming through it all.