Hear from Operational and Culture Change Consultant Dulcie Swanston

Considering how to respond to market challenges and changing times is a critical skill for a leader in this VUCA world. Facilitating strategy away-days is one of my favourite things to do. I find the teams I work with have great analysis, brilliant creative ideas and are prepared to be challenging and honest with themselves in these away-day spaces.

Where my clients see real traction, however, is where they spend as much time — or even more — on thinking through what they can do as leaders to make their teams want to change what they do at work to make a new strategy actually live in the business.

Hours of Executive time are spent on creating, wordsmithing and creating presentations to explain the strategy back to the business. However, recent developments in neuroscience have helped us to understand that our very human wiring might hinder our aspirations when it comes to translating business strategy into a change in working priorities and practises on the ground.

The good news is that if we work with our human wiring — and not against it — there is a lot we can do about that.

Three things I have on repeat for clients are:

  1. Our brains are wired more to forget than to remember – we only remember things with repeated practice and that is practically useful. It’s why most of us still use the method we learnt at school to calculate a percentage or an average, but very few of our brains have remembered how to calculate Sines and Cosines.
  2. Psychological safety is not a ‘nice to have’ for people to perform at their best — our brains simply don’t remember, make decisions, or think effectively when our status, sense of certainty, our autonomy, our sense of connection with others or when we think things are unfair. See David Rock and his SCARF model for more.
  3. Our brains like the idea of change in principle, but we are wired to resist — some research has suggested we are actually immune to taking steps to implement change if it’s not comfortable, quick and easy or means we need to give something up that we have got used to.

Our brains are cognitive misers. Even simple changes, let alone big strategic ones, take energy and our brain is quite stingy with its fuel reserves! I like to quote the Harvard economist J. K. Galbraith in this space:

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

Bearing these uncomfortable truths (which are not ‘fluffy HR’ but, on the contrary, very firmly rooted in neuroscience), here are my five game changers when it comes to translating strategy into deliverable business benefits.

Dulcie 1

Dulcie Swanston - Operational and Culture Change Consultant

  1. Be clear and simple. What does the work ‘strategy’ even mean?! Be crystal clear on the reason your strategy will work. Break it down into simple steps — ideally no more than three. Give some simple numbers or facts for people to hang onto. Have your simple message on repeat. Don’t use jargon.
  2. Connect your strategy with the day-to-day activities of individuals. If your goal is to triple sales, help your finance administrator to understand that, in saving time for salespeople by doing their paperwork properly, they are freeing up additional hours for salespeople to sell.
  3. Play to strengths. Enable people to embrace changes in their roles more easily by making it easy for people to connect with a change of direction. Give people work they like to do and encourage collaboration and co-creation so that people get a chance to use their strengths to shape what happens next — and to share work they don’t like with someone who does!
  4. Make it safe. Especially when it comes to people being able to voice concerns and fears. Being unaware that people feel something is unfair or they feel they have less autonomy (regardless of whether those things are actually true) is a sure-fire way to have your strategy implementation fall at the first hurdle.
  5. Don’t tell. Presenting a new direction and expecting people to do what they are told simply doesn’t work very well. Our brains work best when we can explore and work out what comes next for ourselves. Helpfully this also supports people working autonomously and creatively later on. Positively encourage experimentation — and even failure. One recent scientific study suggests we need to fail 15% of the time for our learning to be optimal.

If you’re grappling with some of the conundrums that Dulcie shares in her blog, get in touch to see how Leopard Co can support your business.

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