Covid 19 has brought about some major changes in working habits, relating to others and use of technology. These changes have affected some people more negatively than others. The neuroscience of change can help us shine some light on the reasons why.
The SCARF Model, which was developed in 2008 by David Rock, outlines that we are driven by reward and danger centres in our brain. SCARF stands for the five key elements that influence our behaviour.
- Status– our relative importance to others.
- Certainty– our ability to predict the future.
- Autonomy– our sense of control over events.
- Relatedness– how safe we feel with others.
- Fairness– how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be.
How does the SCARF model relate to change?
The model helps to explain strong emotional reactions that can occur during times of uncertainty. For example, remote working or increased use of video conferencing might impact some or all of these domains:
- Status – staff may feel unseen because of lack of face to face contact
- Certainty – they maybe unsure of how long the situation will continue or what the protocols are
- Autonomy – they may feel a lack of control and influence over the situation
- Relatedness – the lack of in person contact can reduce their feeling of connectedness
- Fairness – depending on the organisation’s policy, some staff may feel it unfair
Perceived threats such as these cause strong biochemical reactions such as the release of cortisol because the danger centres are activated which causes feelings of stress and anxiety.
When positive things happen on the other hand, such as receiving positive feedback (increasing status), or clarity around processes and procedures (reducing uncertainty) our brain’s reward centres are stimulated, releasing serotonin and oxytocin, and we feel safe and calm.
Understanding the neuroscience of change via the SCARF Model can help you to minimize perceived threats and maximize positive feelings which in turn helps us manage change more easily. Here’s how:
Try to understand that during times of uncertainty, staff may feel unseen or heard so use 1:1 meetings and more frequent communication. This will give you the opportunity to provide support, feedback and coaching with any areas they might be finding challenging. This pro-active behaviour will help you increase the likelihood of staff remaining positive.
Provide frequent, clear direction and up to date information to try and minimise the unpredictability of a situation. Use the ‘how you eat an elephant approach’ to break down complex processes into smaller, more manageable chunks. Focus on things day to day instead of thinking too far ahead.
Allow staff to be involved in some of the decision-making, like rostering schedules or meeting times. Ask for their input and ideas.
Connection with others can promote positive feelings. Buddy staff up, use project teams, hold frequent virtual meetings. Build trust and create strong team bonds by making time for connection at breaks and lunch.
Be as transparent and clear about how decisions have been made as possible. Follow rules, clarify expectations and guidelines. Ensure everybody is clear on goals and objectives.
So, the next time a staff member exhibits a strong negative reaction during times of uncertainty, take some time to analyse why that might be. Understanding the neuroscience of change can help turn the perceived threats into ways in which you can instead stimulate the reward centres in their brain.
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