Why Is Neuroscience a ‘Buzzword’ in the Boardroom?

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Every now and again buzzwords come along that organizations seem to latch onto in a flash. From ‘holistic approaches’ to ‘leveraging’, from ‘co-opetition’ to ‘value proposition’, we have heard many come and go.

So you could be excused for thinking ‘neuroscience’ is another of these. But is it just a fad? The evidence suggests that this is one ‘buzzword’ that the future of our organizations will be built on.

Just as the Internet has changed how we do business over the past two decades, the developments in neuroscience are beginning to change how we approach leadership and teams; and it is affecting how we run our organizations.

From the white coats to the suits

Previously the realm of the “men in white coats”, the workings of the brain was largely reserved for scientific publications and theories about how it could help to solve psychological or neurological disorders.

But in the past decade or so, great leap forwards in the development of brain imaging techniques have made the practice of measuring effects on the brain much more widespread. In turn, much has been discovered, interpreted and theorised about human behaviour.

Neuroscience has therefore entered the boardroom, as well as the lawcourts, economic institutions, government, and the military, to name a few other institutions. It’s not just the men in white coats that are interested anymore – it’s the men in suits too.

Why the boardroom?

Part of the reason why neuroscience has found a new home in the boardroom is the huge potential it offers to solve some of the key problems in our organizations today.

As technology progresses and we develop more efficient systems that get work done quicker and more effectively, we have perhaps forgotten something. The word “organisation” is derived from the Greek word organon: a word meaning “organ” that Aristotle chose to use for his collection of books on logic. That is, the word has its root in the study of human beings.

Somewhere along the line, despite the increased efficiencies of systems and processes, the very people charged with running our organisations have become something of an afterthought.

Neuroscience puts human behaviour back in the front and centre of considerations of how we change our organisations for the better; and even though the marriage of business and neuroscience is relatively young, a better understanding of how brains are wired and how this affects behaviour is already helping us answer a few key questions.

In doing so it perhaps helps to redress the “systems vs. people” balance and is a valuable tool for executives to start creating positive people-based change.

Addressing the key problems

Some of the key problems faced in our organisations nowadays revolve around a disengaged workforce from whom more and more is expected.

As productivity demands increase, engagement levels seem to go down and stress rises; and, as global economic uncertainty continues, there is no sign that this situation will improve unless organisations start better addressing the needs of their people.

Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce Report, 2013, found that “in Australia and New Zealand, 24% of employees are engaged, while 60% are not engaged and 16% are actively disengaged. ” This has set alarm bells ringing in some quarters. With an aging workforce, as it is in most developed countries, the trend of high employee turnover becomes even more serious.

Neuroscience helps us go about solving this problem by providing new techniques to improve hiring and HR, as well as developing leadership and teamwork. At an individual level, neuroscience can help us identify more about the needs of team members and team dynamics. The real key to increasing engagements levels is to make work more satisfying, enjoyable, and meaningful for employees.

So neuroscience has entered the boardroom because, when used in a measured and responsible way, it helps organisations with authentic and lasting change – building internal, sustainable capability through people.

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