The science of change


Learning from behavioural science to drive people through transformation

Dr Lynda Shaw, Business Neuroscientist and Author of ‘Your Brain is Boss’, reveals tips on how to communicate about change within the workplace.

Change is inevitable.  Nothing stays the same, which can be a good thing.  With change often comes expansion and new successes, but the trouble is people resist change. This is exacerbated when change is handled badly, and resistance can become destructive.

There are many ways of enabling people to embrace change and, of course, one of those is communication. Sadly, many companies do not do this very well. They seem to keep at least some level of employees in the dark or only tell them part of the story.

Do you know what happens when people do not know the whole story? They make it up. The brain doesn’t do gaps, it makes up what it doesn’t know.  This means that toxic variations can spread around the company and a ‘them and us’ situation may cause negative feelings to spill over into unhappy customers or clients.

On the other hand, some companies try very hard to thoroughly explain what is happening and offer a huge amount of information to their employees. But still, the required smooth transformation is blocked by unhappy staff. How can this be?

Well, it’s not a surprise that people will be in a heightened emotional state of fear and uncertainty.  That’s obvious. But can you imagine people in this state listening to a huge amount of information ably communicated by the senior people and also imagine how difficult it is to absorb?

This is partly due to the emotional state, but also partly to do with people feeling overwhelmed trying to assimilate what they have heard.

Neuroscience has an explanation for this.  We know that the synapses in the brain enable communication between neurons in order to encode, consolidate, store and retrieve memories. Recent studies, however, have shown that in the short-term synapses are strengthened and then weaken if over stimulated (Brett et al 2013). This suggests that any kind of learning needs to be in small chunks with time for reflection to allow people to work out how the new information can be applied to their own circumstances.

The science of change is a big subject, but for now, the thing to consider is first, tell the whole story to all the staff. Secondly, be succinct, positive and demonstrate the benefits of the changes that are about to occur.

Your messages don’t have to be complicated, but they do have to be clear.

Come and listen to my talk at CIPD Festival of Work on 12 June 2019 at Olympia London to find out more. It will be fun and informative.

Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw, Business Neuroscientist and Author of ‘Your Brain is Boss’ is speaking at the CIPD Festival of Work on 12 June 2019.




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Further reading: Brett L. Benedetti, Yoshio Takashima, Jing A Wen, Joanna Urban-Ciecko and Alison L. Barth (2013).  Differential Wiring of Layer 2/3 Neurons Drives Sparse and Reliable Firing During Neocortical Development.  Cereb Ortex. 23 (11) 2690-2699


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The CIPD’s Festival of Work (12-13 June 2019, Olympia London, promises to be a landmark event for both people professionals and business leaders. By focusing on the most innovative strategies in management, technology and learning, the festival will help you, and 7,000 of your colleagues, to harness the latest transformations and drive a human future of work. With 7,000+ attendees, 160+ inspiring speakers, filled with inspirational live experiences and challenging ideas, it’s the ultimate celebration of people in the workplace.


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