MNC Consulting Group Newsletter
June 2017
The Brain in Change Management  

Change management is an over-discussed topic, so why am I discussing it here? There are two reasons. First, people rarely get change right. Second, managers tend to lose sight of how technology is changing (ahem) change initiatives.
 
Even the best managed change initiatives have a one-in-three chance of success, but that statistic came out before we plunged into massive use (overuse?) of technology. Implementation of new initiatives neglects to consider how our brains are changing the way we work.
 
Technology not only affects our memory, but it is impacting our attention span and what we focus on. Technology can be a big stressor. As one researcher exclaimed, we have outsourced our memory to Google, GPS, calendar alerts, and calculators. Technology has created a digital media culture, but organizations are not keeping pace with this new culture.
 
Using tactics to manage change that may have worked 20 or 30 years ago will not work in the digital media age. Why? Because the human brain is not the same.
 
Neuroimaging scans of brains of frequent Internet users showed twice as much activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain compared to sporadic users. This is the part of the brain used for short-term memory and quick decision-making. With the increasing flood of information, we have learned to skim.
 
The question for researchers is whether the Internet sharpens our ability to scan information rapidly and efficiently (which is a desired trait for workers) or are we becoming a nation of shallow thinkers?
 
What is an organization to do?
 
The proverbial "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" seems rather apt in this case. Frank Vetere suggests that technology should be used to augment social interaction and social wellbeing if for no other reason than technology is not going away. Instead of asking people to put away their cell phones during meetings, people should be encouraged to bring their electronic devices to meetings - this will motivate social rapport and build harmony in the workplace.
 
Given that brains are now more adept at quickly scanning for relevant information, change implementation should be easier - IF the correct information relating to the change is provided early and frequently.
Downsizing Teams
 
When implementing change projects, more is better is a fallacy - not only in terms of the number of change projects being implemented or number of teams being deployed, but also in the number of people that comprise a team. Therefore, if you want a project implemented quickly and successfully, do it with a smaller team.
 
Harvard reports that smaller teams are quicker. In one experiment, researchers found that two-person teams took an average of 36 minutes to assemble 50 Lego pieces into a human figure, while a four-person team took 52 minutes. It appears that people consistently underestimate the additional time needed by larger teams, with forecasting errors growing larger as teams get bigger.
 
A few takeaways from this experiment include that increasing a team's size can hamper coordination, diminish members' motivation, and increase conflict. Therefore, if the organization is embarking on implementing a complex development project, the outlook is better if smaller teams are used.
In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)
Computers and other electronic media are transforming our world. Cyberspace appears to be utopia for some, but an Orwellian nightmare for others. We should all be concerned about this new world of "Big Brother" (and I'm not talking about the reality television show!). Smart phones monitor, record, translate, and track - our privacy is anything but ours. Should we be worried? I suppose not if we have nothing to hide, but that should not be the criteria by which we judge technology or our privacy. If you are like me, you are concerned about how our electronic devices are changing our human relationships. Technology may be evolving a new breed of human. IMHO.
 
"Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man doesn't have to experience it."
- Max Frisch

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