Do Brain-Friendly Organizations Exist?


In 2006, an article on the theme of neuroleadership initially was published in the USA. “The Neuroscience of Leadership” from David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz excited many practitioners and also me as well. The identification of those neuronal structures which are involved in the processes that are relevant for employee management is supposed to lead to the continued development of the prominent management theories and management models. During my training in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), I was fascinated by the effects of mirroring neurons. In the concept of “mirroring”, we endeavor to establish harmony with the business partner via body language as well as also verbal speaking. This often occurs unconsciously, but helps to improve the proverbial “chemistry” between two persons. In the brain, chemistry is associated primarily with hormones.


I was fascinated with these findings and I began to learn more and more about the neurobiological foundations of effective change processes. However, I was also familiar with the critical diagnoses, the insufficient empirical examinations of the existing concepts from the research area (note: a discussion which is also repeatedly conducted in NeuroMarketing, among others). I would also not like to participate in this discussion at all – there are others who are quite qualified to do so – but rather to address a couple of ideas for practical application from these findings and learning experiences. Christian E. Elger simultaneously influenced and fascinated me, among others, with the first German-language book on the theme of “NeuroLeadership”. In this regard, Elger identifies four essential systems in the brain which are relevant for neuroleadership: The reward system, the emotional system, the memory system and the decision-making system. In my opinion, his findings regarding the interplay of these systems are quite essential elements for obtaining added value in the transformation of these systems within the company’s daily operations during a change process.


Let’s take the emotional system during the change process. The brain processes rational and emotional components from the environment separately from each other and forms human conduct therefrom. Whenever change processes are communicated, it is in many cases underestimated that facts are tied to emotions. Information regarding the target vision of a change is stored through implicit assessments as emotions. If we know this, then we understand how important emotions in target visions are. This can be attained via various methods. However, it must be clear to the communicator (company management or manager) that thus the conduct of the employees will be determined during the change process. Their inner attitude will oftentimes be mirrored in this regard and employees will very quickly notice whether the management is convinced about its own project.


The brain as a social organ strives for fairness. Conversely, during many change processes, I have heard top managers repeatedly say, “Each change has winners and losers”. Is this the capitulation for successful change management? Certainly not even if it is true that the subjective perception of a fair change process is generally not easy to guarantee, but the reward system can be activated through positive feedback and the perceived unfairness can be minimized.


Those are only two aspects (and naturally there are still some more) which are supposed to stimulate a person to ponder these issues and I have certainly not reached the point during my research and learning where I can transfer findings – particularly from the cognitive neurosciences – into a scientifically-well-founded organizational design (OD) model. Perhaps that will one day be the case which would satisfy my research vanity. As a practitioner in change management, however, it is above all important to me to transfer these findings into a modern organizational management system. Organizations are quite certainly no places for social romanticism; they are places where people are supposed to render a good performance. Thus, let’s create those framework conditions so that these are also the best performances – and therefore I have founded NeuroChange.

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