Monday, October 26, 2009

Science called - it asked for better communication

I read a cool article in the Autumn 2009 strategy+business magazine about what recent neuroscience research tells us about the social nature of high-performing workplaces. Communicating better and reducing uncertainty is a necessity for increasing productivity and retaining staff.

One of the studies, that unfortunately applies to too many work environments, discusses how uncertainty has the ability to block work from getting done and encourages bad decisions. When something is certain, or familiar, "neural connections in our basal ganglia have 'hardwired' the situation and the responses to it. This makes it easy to do what someone knows how to do, even to focus on more than one thing. Like driving and talking on the phone."

Enter uncertainty ... Will we get funding? Are we hiring/firing? What is everyone else working on? Will the new project need me? Uncertainty registers in the part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, as an error, a gap or tension - something that must be corrected. Just a wee bit of uncertainty can be exciting. It can produce adrenaline and make us be more creative, prod us to think outside of the box and deliver more. Tip the scale a bit and get too much uncertainty and you have some real problems. "Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy. This diminishes memory, undermines performance, and disengages people from the present. When perceived uncertainty gets out of hand, people panic and make bad decisions."

Doing poor work is one thing. But disengaging is another thing altogether. It's frightening to think your star performers are looking to 'correct' uncertainty by looking for new jobs that seem to be more stable.

I think in the vast majority of situations, people can handle more complexity than they are given credit for. They can handle knowing the problems and the variables behind them. Good leaders understand the importance of communicating regularly and meaningfully. Creating the perception of certainty builds confident and dedicated teams.

For example, sharing business plans, breaking down complex projects into discrete steps, sharing rationales for change, maps/plans of an organization’s structure, specifics about restructuring, and articulating how decisions are made help people feel more confident and build trust. 'Transparent practices are the foundation on which the perception of certainty rests.'

There you go. If you want your team effectively multi-tasking, concentrating, and not looking for other jobs, doesn't it make sense to communicate more?

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