We are now just over a week into a new year and, already, many have found their resolve waning. No matter what the resolutions, it takes little time for the barriers that we thought were speed bumps to loom large and cast a shadow that creates doubt. That said, most of us do not dare admit it.
Organizations and businesses of all types are as challenged as individuals to make important changes. As emphatic as their declarations may be, it takes more. Enthusiasm, confidence and fanfare won’t do it for individuals, teams or organizations. Indeed, kickoff meetings, chants and pronouncements appear as shams when these activities are not followed up by achievement. People quickly become cynical when the goods aren’t forthcoming. Not to mention those who are cynical to begin with, though that begs the question why they are in your organization in the first place.If resolve isn’t enough…then what is? Click To Tweet
If resolve isn’t enough…then what is? Leadership to create new pathways. The following is an excerpt from my latest book The Merger Mindset, written with Dr. Linda Henman and just released. The book is focused on M&A but the lessons apply broadly because deal or not, organizations are always adding something, always merging something, always changing…that is unless they have missed the proverbial boat and are sinking.
Doctors today use “brain scanners” or functional neuroimaging to investigate the structure or function of the brain. These techniques provide a way of assessing brain injury and examining the relative activations of different brain areas. The concept of biological neural networks inspired us to create artificial neural networks—computing systems that help computers solve problems the same way that the human brain would.
After an M & A deal, executives need another kind of neural network—an internal superhighway that connects the old to the new and helps them solve the unique problems the deal created. Most people don’t give up habits—even bad ones—without major effort and motivation to do so. They need to believe that a new and different way will benefit them, personally.
A new neural network in a company starts at the top with leaders creating a clear, simple and powerful raison d’etre. Just as leaders need to think about what customers need and want, they need to understand what will interest smart, talented people. Leaders have to point to a mission in which people want to be part. Once people understand the combined company’s mission, they’ll want to figure out their roles in upholding it.
The surest way to build neural superhighways is to identify and unleash the motivation in people. Motivation gives us a reason and desire to do something. It occurs internally, but we can infer its presence from behavior. Leaders can discover motivation, fuel it, or kill it, but they can’t create it.
The leaders’ decision to manage or strong-arm a major change will determine whether they create a neural highway of change or a road to perdition. To create the former, leaders will rely on formal communication, but that will not be sufficient. Rather than looking for a linear, cause-and-effect paradigm, leaders should have a mindset of pattern recognition and rapid learning. A neural network allows this sort of connection and supports not only fact and information gathering, but also insight.
A neural network is an apt analogy for how we often think of the brain. The brain consists of a mass of neurons that activate and rest, depending upon both biological and psychological events.
Psychological effects on the brain are often given second-class status, being regarded as less real. Yet, some estimate that 80% of symptoms leading to physician visits are either caused by psychological factors or have them as contributing factors. These phenomena, in spite of being regarded as less real, lead to observable behavior.
In organizations, many think of the neural network as the “grapevine” and give it the same second-class status the medical community gives psychological contributors. Although the neural network frequently operates underground with little structure or accountability, people trust it. In this way, neural networks influence culture because, like a cult, they operate outside the control of leaders and often survive despite leaders’ efforts to marshal them.
When an organization experiences the uncertainty a deal can create, informal communication will fill in the gaps created by either a lack of information or a mistrust of the formal communication leaders provide. The corporate equivalent of adrenaline lights up nodes on the network and keeps them on, creating a sense of danger. People become hyper-vigilant, noticing and interpreting even small acts—frequently incorrectly. A high level of stress hormones cascading in an individual causes an unpleasant, distracting, and often contagious reaction.
Rather than trying to psychoanalyze their people, leaders should spend more time observing them. As amorphous as culture sounds, it comes down to behavior. Think of a cult. How do you know if someone is a member of a cult? You observe patterns of behavior that allow you to determine membership and affinity.
Many think that beliefs guide behavior, and sometimes they do. At other times, powerful beliefs emerge as a result of behavior, because they justify what we have already done.
To build a healthy neural network, leaders need to do three things.
- First, identify the behaviors consistent with success, given the goals and strategy.
- Second, fan the flames of motivation by matching talent to the role and giving people autonomy over how they work.
- Third, remove people who threaten to jeopardize what you are trying to accomplish.
The decisions leaders make, especially the tough calls, signal to everyone whether what they say is true or not. When the behavior of the leaders matches what they say, the entire system breathes a sigh of relief.
A neural network exists in your business. Make yours a super highway for productivity and feelings of accomplishment.