If you run a business, how do you get the best out of your staff? How do you ensure your workplace is one where people can achieve their best for you and themselves without feeling bullied or stressed?

These are pretty important questions when you realise that people attach as much importance to the workplace as a social forum as to being a place where they earn money for their labour.

That is one of the findings of the major advances that are being made in neuroscience, how our brain works. A conference was held about all this in Manchester during the last few days. It didn’t get much publicity. The media,universities, and business organisations (apart from Downtown) weren’t interested. But in a few years these findings will provide the scientific basis for most companies human resources and public relations strategies.

At the conference leading experts from around the world explained how the latest developments in neuroscience, emotional intelligence and psychology can help in a really practical way to improve the way your workforce is encouraged intelligently to think differently and reach innovative decisions.

The fact is that most people know far more about how their car works than how their brain works. And whilst on the subject of cars as far as the brain’s processes are concerned the way you speak to someone can have the same impact as getting your hand caught in a car door!

This conference came at a time of a major crisis in the reputation of many of our companies and institutions. From banking and phone hacking to MPs expenses and FIFA, we are in trouble with public perception. All this is not down to failures in regulation. Much of it is culture and values produced in the brain. So how does the brain work and how do we apply the new knowledge?

When I first thought about this subject I couldn’t fully connect how breakthrough research on the functioning of the brain could be directly linked to the world of HR and personal development.

It can perhaps be summed up with the statement that many of our assumptions about how the brain works are wrong. Many of our assumptions about what motivates people are wrong. Some of our well tried techniques for getting the best out of our workforces are at best out of date and often counterproductive.

One of the major issues for businesses is the challenge of change. It is happening all the time and the speed of change will only accelerate. But neuroscience can help people make that change. One part of our brain is primed and ready to provide us with a natural aversion to change. It is seen as a threat. People need to be given the tools to gain ownership of change decisions for themselves. We need to teach people how to learn for themselves.

We need to share challenges with workers, share information not believe that information is power and keep it to ourselves.

Of course enlightened management is putting some of this into practice already but having the scientific knowledge to back it up will help immensely.

I was particularly struck by the observation of one brain expert that whereas the common perception of the workplace is that it is a place where effort is exchanged for money; for the brain it is social space. The threat response is more powerful than the reward response. Being hungry and being ostracised provoke the same brain response. And don’t forget what I said about the car door!

There is scepticism that this is gobbledygook, or people don’t want to know for fear of getting it wrong. There are special challenges for small businesses. The need to balance theory with practical action and an acknowledgement that neuroscience is far from the whole answer to getting the best out of your workforce.

But neuroscience can certainly help you get a happy workforce.


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