Jennifer Baker

People born 20 years ago have grown up in era of constant change. According to the Beloit College Mindset List, these people have never licked a postage stamp, have never seen an aeroplane ticket, have only ever seen folk wheel their suitcases around an airport rather than carry them and think email is the formal way to communicate. Although they are used to constant change, we shouldn’t take for granted that it is any easier for them to deal with than it is for the rest of us. Social neuroscientist David Rock’s SCARF model eloquently illustrates what happens to our subconscious brain when we are dealing with change. The trigger of either a threat or reward response hugely affects our ability to perform in the workplace. Despite best intentions, many leaders still handle change inadequately.

A factor to consider is how our brains are naturally wired to think and behave. If you take the ‘S’ of the SCARF model, which is ‘status’ (our perception of where we are in relation to others), something as simple as how a manager offers feedback can easily trigger a threat response. The ‘reptilian’ part of our brain responsible for flight or fight can activate and start a cascading effect that inhibits clear problem solving, creativity, memory retention and decision-making.

Even if you have a millennial in your team, they will react in the same way as their older counterparts. An emotionally intelligent, self-aware adult will have some capacity to suppress or manage the perceived ‘threat’ response. But can you count on everyone in your team having that level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness?

If your team feel that they are going to receive a reward, they will bring more cognitive resources, more insights, more ideas for action, fewer errors, and will be open to change. Whereas, if they feel threatened, they’ll experience reduced working memory, a reduced perspective, a generalised feeling of threat and will err on the side of pessimism.

You can support and increase the status of every member of your team if you regularly give positive feedback, keep everyone informed and involved and consult them often. So, which would you prefer? How would you like them to feel, under threat or secure in their status?