When significant change is on the horizon for your business, it is important to recognize how people react to the unknown.
In an article by David Rock, the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, two broad themes are discussed.
The first is that each of us is driven by an “overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward.” Those immersed in the drama of an acquisition are biologically driven to wondering and worrying about what will happen to the existing social order.
The second theme is that there are parallels between the way we respond to how well our social needs are met and how we respond to the meeting of our physical needs. He cites a study indicating that it hurts just as a much to be left out as it does to experience a hammer meeting our thumb.
Rock proposes a model, SCARF, which includes these two themes as a way to help us navigate what can trigger reward or threat behaviors in social situations. The model, in short, is as follows:
Status - This refers to how important we are or perceive we are within a particular group. When a company is acquired, employees may believe they will be viewed as lower on the totem pole than employees within the acquiring company.
What can you do?
Promote a culture of respect in which everyone’s opinion is valued in ways appropriate for their areas of expertise. When discrete events occur (e.g., promotions, acquisitions, etc.), be proactive in communicating how and why personnel decisions have been or will be made.
Certainty - Certainty refers to the need our brain has to respond to recognizable patterns. When we can’t, error messages akin to a “flashing printer icon” go on.
What can you do? Be clear. Be as specific as possible. For big projects, break them down into specific steps. In individual interactions, remember that the level of clarity necessary will be different for each person. When details are pending, promise that more details will follow, communicate a timeline for the additional information and deliver on that promise.
Autonomy - The third point refers to how much choice and control we perceive we have over our lives. As a leader, do you find yourself telling others what to do in their area of expertise? If so, you may be restricting their autonomy.
What can you do? Don’t micromanage. Enough said?
Relatedness - This refers to whether or not someone is “in” or “out” of your group. We’re all familiar with the student who doesn’t have an “in” group and sits by himself at lunch. His brain is firing the message that he’s on the outside looking in.
One way to promote relatedness is to encourage affinity groups. These could be either related or unrelated to workplace initiatives. Be a role model. Make an effort to relate to people that may be on the outside looking in.
Fairness - The fifth and final point refers to the belief that others aren’t being treated preferentially. Think executive elevators, executive washrooms, etc.
What can you do? Be clear about your reasons for decisions you make and changes that must be made. Be clear about the “why” and “how” of your decisions. There should be no hint that you’re trying to hide an unfair process by not being transparent about your reasons.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to promote organizational sync by minimizing threat responses, you may reach Andy Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.