November  13,  2019

There is a lot of research on the brain and behavior. Science can tell us why we feel and act the way we do. At Emerson, we like to take scientific findings and use them to help you get the business outcomes you want. There are three principles, based in science, which can help you make any organizational change or learning program better. Science tells us that if we want to implement something new in an organization, we should make it feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful.

The first principle is Familiar. Our brains see anything new as a threat. We feel fear. Familiarity can make a new thing feel safe and valuable. Familiarity is created by comparing the new thing to your past experiences. Compare the change to something good. Compare the change to something bad. Use what they already know. And, of course, we know stories are powerful. So you can use a story as the vehicle for each of these. I’ve used story telling on many of my projects. Typically, I find executives or well-respected managers to share stories that help make the change to feel familiar. Also, use repetition. Perhaps the information is new to people when you start the project, but if you keep repeating it over and over, it becomes familiar. I do this by having multiple resources sharing their stories.

The second principle is Controlled. Our brains don’t like uncertainty and they don’t like feeling vulnerable. Giving people predictability and control lowers anxiety and unleashes people’s potential to plan and organize. Control is created by giving a change predictability and structure, and by giving people choices. Share a schedule or project roadmap to help those impacted by the change to understand when things are happening. This helps them to schedule the rest of life which gives them some control during the change. Also, Frequently Asked Questions provide stakeholders with additional information which helps them to feel control.

The third principle is Successful. Brain research tells us exactly why winning feels good. And why winning together feels even better. A feeling of success is created by engineering small wins and celebrating milestones. One way to make someone feel successful doing something new is by breaking that new thing into small, simple tasks. Another way to make people feel successful is by making the new thing doable. Also, be sure to make your change measurable. Being able to measure it helps to show when goals are being achieved. Once those goals are achieved or those milestones are met, use rewards to encourage people to continue moving forward with the change. In past projects, I’ve set it up so that teams who are showing progress, get recognized by the company. This encourages them to continue moving forward and it helps the rest of the organization see how things should be done based on the new way of doing business.

Creating connections between your change and other experiences makes people feel it’s familiar, which turns off fear, makes the change feel valuable, and helps people remember it. Adding choice, structure, and predictability makes the change feel controlled, so people feel less anxious, more engaged, and get to use their brains’ executive functions. Engineering small wins; measuring; providing feedback and rewards; and celebrating make people feel successful, activating the feel-good chemicals in their brains. Use the simple strategies outlined here to make your change feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful. In doing so, the change will be more quickly adapted in your organization.