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Why THIS Inflection Point MUST Change Our THINKING

And three areas that can be a strong catalyst for positive change

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We are at a significant inflection point in the United States regarding racial equality and policing.

We are also at an inflection point for corporate America.

I humbly submit I have no qualifications to provide real solutions on the more significant social issues that our country is facing. Still, I have a point of view on what corporate America should be doing.

Interestingly, and maybe surprisingly, the path forward for both of these are strikingly similar.

While society and corporations need to improve culture and trust, these “giant leaps” need to happen with measurable behavioral change. This change will require a new mindset. A fundamental change in our thinking. And this change in thinking can be helped by applying neuroscience understanding.

You see, our brains are carrying around millions of years of evolutionary baggage and lifetime of personal baggage. This baggage creates a perception (and an attitude) that drives our behavior. Only by changing our thinking, can we change our behavior.  

We can create new, more positive behaviors if we improve our self-awareness and improve the way we think. Or, as I like to say, “Get your Brain to Work for You. Not Against You.TM

Before COVID 19, companies faced significant issues with employee engagement, employee mental health, and leadership.

Here are some facts based on the 2019 Workplace Study by Mental Health Awareness:

58% of people reported they feel unmotivated at work;

Over 50% of people would NOT recommend their place of employment to others;

45% of employees are looking for a new job at least once per week;

55% of employees are afraid to take a day off to attend to their mental health;

62% of employees cite workplace culture made them feel less comfortable and more stressed; and

Nearly half (47%) say their supervisor doesn’t value feedback on improving workplace culture.

Wow.

Now you may want to dismiss this as complaining or think, “they should just suck it up.” You know the saying, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” (And there may be some of that.)

BUT the reality is that you need to care for your employees if you want productivity and growth. After all, your employees are the ones taking care of your customers.

Countless studies have proven that the key to success is contentment, NOT hard work. When people work in a motivating environment, their collaboration goes up. They make better decisions, and they have better ideas.

Companies talk in grand terms about their values. On paper, some seem to make sense. Yet the strong realization is that a company’s culture is not defined by a written document, but by the behaviors modeled by the leadership group, and the behaviors that are trained and mentored for all front-line employees.

“Going into” the pandemic, the facts speak to an issue of employee stress and disengagement. And the need for more employee, and leadership self-care.

To this difficult situation add working from home, current and future layoffs, the uncertainty of the new workplace, reduced HR budgets, and the pressure to add even more diversity.

You are faced with the potential for even more stress, less work/life balance, and an even more disengaged workforce. The importance of taking care of employees, and defining a workplace environment and culture, which is inspiring and productive, is more crucial than ever.

So, what to do?

To create change, we need to change behaviors in three critical areas.

In society, the overwhelming desire is to move from “hate to love,” “racism to equality,” and “anger to trust.” But those giant leaps need to start with measurable steps.

On a corporate level, while companies want to have a “culture of trust,” that concept is hard to define, hard to measure, and even harder to train for the right behaviors.

But change is possible if we can get our brains to understand more simple concepts and the actions that will lead to a greater good.

Here are the three behaviors that will provide positive solutions for companies (and maybe society too).

1. RESPECT

Respect has a substantial impact on our brain. It can be a potent motivator or a significant stress trigger.

When we feel respected, our brain releases positive pleasure chemicals, e.g., dopamine, that can put us in a very positive mindset and motivating state.  Studies show that employees that feel respected are twice as likely to stay at the company. The act of feeling valued, (say by being called out and recognized for excellent work), releases eight (8) times more positive brain chemicals than getting a raise.

Conversely, when we feel disrespected, our brains go into “protection mode,” often triggering “victim behavior.” These strong negative emotions release the stress hormone cortisol, which reduces our ability to think, and has a significant health impact.

Disrespect can trigger us in many ways. It can be significant, like losing your job, or more subtle like the feeling you get when your boss corrects you in a meeting. It can also be “minor” like the feeling you may get when one of your social posts doesn’t receive as many likes as you thought it should.

Our brains are more creative, more collaborative, and make better decisions when we feel respected. Isn’t that what we need now more than ever?

To improve respect, we must value and treat everyone equally. Easier said than done.

Remember that baggage we carry around from evolution and life experiences? That baggage creates a bias. Yes, if you have a brain, you are biased. Some biases are harmless. Some become harmful, and some become toxic and dangerous.

Biases are problematic because they lead to judgments. Of things, situations, and even people. For example, you may have a point of view about people who don’t think like you or act like you. Or look, or dress differently. Or live in a particular part of the country. Or go to a specific school.

The first step is the self-awareness to recognize that you are biased.  A five (5) year research study by The Harvard Business Review indicated that 95% of people thought they were self-aware, yet only about 15% were.

The cartoon tries to make this point.  The reality is that everyone doesn’t think like you, and that is OK. And it’s a blessing. When we recognize our bias and listen, we learn, grow and be more productive.

The bias that we favor people who are “like us” impacts hiring and group formation, potentially leading to a problem when more diversity could be a more robust solution.

Once we check our ego at the door, we can then change our thinking and learn to respect all people and all points of view.

Who knows, we may just learn something.

2. ACCOUNTABILITY

Police departments need more accountability. So do corporations.

The road to improving accountability is to focus on personal responsibility.

Being personally responsible means being accountable for what you do and understanding that if you don’t do what you say you’ll do, there are consequences.

According to the Brookings Institute, “personal responsibility is the willingness to accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behavior and to make strenuous personal efforts to live by those standards. But personal responsibility also means that when individuals fail to meet expected standards, they do not look around for some factor outside of themselves to blame.

A business should act more like a championship sports team. In the most successful sports teams, the leader (coach) establishes a common goal. Everyone “buys-in,” and each individual on that team is personally responsible for delivering his or her best effort to achieve the goal. If someone doesn’t follow through, their actions are transparent. Not just the coach, but all the teammates hold each other accountable.  

In business, bosses should hold employees accountable, employees should hold bosses accountable, and employees should hold each other accountable.

As noted, real accountability, or personal responsibility, means not blaming and not finger- pointing.

When you blame others, you “put the problem on the other person’s doorstep,” creating a mindset that it’s “not my fault.” To recognize when this is happening, just listen to how someone defines a problem. Do they say things like

“My boss doesn’t trust me.”

“The customer is such a pain.”

The “blame game” is driven by the brain’s desire to protect us, and make it hard to admit we wrong, or have some role in a situation.

We draw a line in the sand. We further push people apart, and we make a possibly productive conversation more difficult.

So how can you start taking more personal responsibility?

You start by defining situations that need to be solved using facts, not judgments. For example, “She raised her voice,” is a fact; “She yelled at me,” is a judgment. “The customer didn’t buy the recommendation,” is a fact; “The customer is difficult,” is a judgment.

Stick to facts.

A 2nd step is to define the problem (situation) without making the other person or group the focus of the problem. If we define the problem through the filter of personal accountability, then we have a much better mindset to come up with a solution.

For example, “The customer didn’t accept our recommendation,” while being a fact, is still leaning in the direction of blaming the customer. A definition of the situation with more personal accountability would be, “We have yet to find a way to sell this customer our ideas.”

When you are looking to solve difficult situations, one tool that may help is “The One Sentence Accountability Test.” This tool forces you to be fact-based and look at the situation with some personal accountability.  

How does it work?

Write down the problem you are trying to solve in one sentence. Make sure it is a fact-based sentence that doesn’t start with the other party. (And it is a problem you have a chance of solving!)

As an example, if we are looking at the trouble we are facing in society right now, we cannot come to a collaborative solution if we define the issue as “The cops are bad,” or “Police need to change,” or “Protesters are disruptive.”

These definitions of the problem just won’t get it done.

Maybe, if we tried to define the problem as “Unnecessary and excessive force against anyone cannot be tolerated and must result in severe consequences,” the result would be

a point-of-view everyone can rally around and have a constructive conversation?

3. EMPATHY

This much-needed behavior often is misunderstood.

Put simply; Empathy is being open to recognize, understand, and acknowledge the situation of others.

Our brains are very social (up to a point.)

Our brains developed while collaborating with other brains. Just imagine the caveman telling his cavewoman wife, “You go over there and distract this dinosaur while I hit him over the head with this club!”

The social networks in our brains connect with other brains. A good portion of this connection is automatic. An example of this is when you see somebody yawn, you likely have the urge to yawn.

But the part of your brain which needs to connect with others to get along, or negotiate, or comfort someone, requires empathy.

These “empathy brain muscles” need work and practice to develop fully.  Especially since the automatic response in our brain is to be self-centered, and project our situation or emotional state on others.

We must develop the part of our brain which can recognize this and change our thinking. The good news is we can do it! And the more we practice, the better we become.

Recognizing the situation of others is a powerful way to offer up respect, and to learn. We start by listening and being open. When people feel heard their brain works better too.

So, there you have it. Three important ways to recognize the inflection point we are facing in corporate America.

Respect. Accountability. Empathy.

All concepts that can be trained for and measured. And these behaviors will lead to more trust, more cooperation, more productivity, less conflict, and less stress.

We can improve a company’s culture. It starts with changing our thinking to change our behaviors.

Transformational behavioral change is possible if we use neuroscience to change our thinking.

And, as the famous Burt Bacharach/ Hal David song goes,

“What the world needs now is …..  ”

You know the rest.

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