Neuroscience breakthroughs are changing the role of learning groups in organizations. In most organizations, L&D is a marginal group that is perceived as having little impact on results. Now, by effectively leveraging these breakthroughs, training departments can develop and implement programs that directly drive performance improvement and financial growth. They can move from the periphery of organizations to become a critical, core capability.

No one likes to hear it, but L&D is often perceived as a necessary but not particularly productive part of an organization. Unless there is a crisis or fundamental change, leadership is unwilling to invest much time or money in people development, including their own development. Imagine, however, if, at the end of a learning program, 90 percent of the participants were making a huge, measurable contribution to the organization, and 50 percent of these people described their experience as “life-changing” in a good way. How would that change the role of the learning organization?

One example of this positive scenario involved a program that was supposed to bring a large health insurance company into a new market, but which had been struggling. Out of desperation, leadership decided to use a new learning program based on these neuroscience principles. In this program, six human resources and training professionals used a neuroscience-based approach to guide 36 executives to implement the needed changes and develop the attitudes and behaviors needed for sustained change leadership.

Everyone – the six professionals and the 36 executives – initially rejected the notion that HR and training could be the leaders of the leaders of the change. They were wrong. As Lisa, one of the HR professionals, said:

“I seriously doubted whether any of the executives would pay attention to us. But, very much to all of our surprise, by following the neuroscience, not only was the change and leadership development incredibly successful, but the perception of our role changed a lot. We are now seen as providing new capabilities to the organization that directly generate financial growth. We are now included early in all major initiatives.”

What made the difference? Recent advances in neuroscience have led to a very simple but robust model of learning as the foundation for great, practical leadership:

learning and leadership neuroscience model

Here are the key elements of the model:

  • A focus on generating and internalizing a compelling purpose for the change stimulates neural changes (endorphins and dopamine) that quickly make people more confident, excited about and open to the work required to improve performance. It also provides the motivation to do the practice required to become more skilled at a role. Most importantly, it feels great.
  • Writing this compelling purpose and recording learning from practical, applied exercises both suppresses portions of the brain associated with resistance to change and drives people to more effectively assimilate new attitudes and behaviors.
  • Discussing the compelling purpose and learning experiences in a guided social group causes the release of the “social” neurochemicals (serotonin and oxytocin) that cause people to want the group to succeed. The more compelling the purpose and practical the exercises, the more direct impact they have on improved performance.

This science has direct implications for the design and delivery of learning programs, including:

  • Always start with guiding participants to develop a compelling purpose.
  • Incorporate lots of journaling and other writing.
  • Build a strong social support environment around the participants.

Here is the best news – or at least really good news. Programs based on these principles are typically less expensive to develop (a program can be developed in about six hours – yes, hours), have a high impact (as mentioned, 90 percent or more consistently show substantive productivity gains) and are effective with people working in the time-constrained environment of our “Twitterized” world.

Few executives know about this science and the opportunities it creates for enabling growth. But you now know. You can develop learning programs that allow your organization to pivot quickly and efficiently and that directly drive growth. Your opportunity, and your challenge, is to educate your leadership team about the capabilities that neuroscience-based learning provides to organizations.

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