Published in Sept/Oct 2020
Organizations are made up of people, and people have brains. Therefore, for training organizations to be great, the people in them and their brains must be at their best. In 2020, training organizations have a lot to learn from the science of healthy brains. And a healthy brain is characterized by various traits that may sound counterintuitive at first.
Choose “dynamism” over “order”: When speaking of great companies, entrepreneur Peter Thiel explains that there are no formulae. In keeping with this, in 2010, an article from Harvard Business Review explained that companies that survived a recession were not the most pragmatic, innovative or balanced. Instead, they were progressive and dynamic, reflecting how the brain works best. Recent studies demonstrate that – the higher the complexity or disorder in the brain – the greater the intelligence. In fact, neurons function best at the edge of chaos.
Great training organizations: To be great then, training should be dynamic, adapting to the needs of the time and prioritizing agility in learning. To be agile is more than a philosophy. It is a mindset shift to remove barriers to adaptability: too much feedback, resistance to action, confusion over pros and cons, reluctance to think too far in the future, and overly theoretical thinking rather than thinking that is pertinent to the market and time. Each of these brain-based factors can be addressed as they apply to the current strategy and state of the company.
Embrace complexity: A great training organization will embrace complexity. On a neurological level, this means that the organization helps people alternate between switching in and out of focus. Setting aside time for idea generation and brain restoration through rest is crucial.
Great training organizations: Complexity may be elusive at first. At its core, it requires setting aside more time for your 100 billion neurons to be part of the equation of success. This means that you must toggle between focus and rest, and those moments of rest should be part of the company culture, measured right alongside productivity. Napping, doodle boards and vision boards can all be part of down time. During focus time, employees can mold realizations that occur during down time into effective strategies. Even online meetings can include “unfocus” tools.
Prioritize mental health: As a result of COVID-19, the CDC reports that anxiety has tripled, and depression has quadrupled. Mental health programs may feel like a luxury. However, during highly stressful times, they are a necessity if companies want to save money on turnover and absenteeism. Moreover, when mental health is good, immunity and physical health are protected, too.
Great training organizations: Provide mental health screenings, offer mental health days and consider buying online programs that remove the stigma surrounding mental health. I have led several such programs on LinkedIn Learning, as well as wellness programs with Duke CE and ExecOnline. Find similar programs to scale throughout your organization.
Beware post-COVID brain bias: We live in a world that is polarized by gender, generation, race and political party. In this environment, training can suffer as in-group biases prevail – preventing collaboration, cooperation and connections necessary for fluent execution of strategies.
Great training organizations: Constant reminders and fears of death bias the brain, so people hold on to their own viewpoints more strongly than ever. For this reason, help people understand how mortality salience — or reminders of death — bias the brain, making it difficult to see others’ points of view. For this reason, introducing “point of view” exercises, where teams express how they think others are feeling, can stimulate healthy discussion.
These four strategies are practical brain-based approaches to enhance your organization and its training efforts.