(This is not an HH+B case study but one which we were given permission to write- up for out book Brain-Savvy Business)
This accountancy firm had observed that the analytical nature of their work led their people to unconsciously look for problems in everything, carrying a problem-orientation into conversations and relationships and generating a negative focus. Of course auditors should look for problems, that’s what they are paid by clients to find but the issue comes when people can’t compartmentalise their abilities and begin to extend them to areas of their life where different skills would work better. A pessimistic fault finding mind-set is not helpful in building a relationship with a potential client, or at home with their family or even at work with peers and their team. Shaun Anchor calls this the Negative Tetris Effect. An effect where noticing the problems and scanning for issues takes people down a negative spiral in all areas of their life. What happens is that noticing negative issues becomes a habit. Auditors, and others like lawyers, who rely on noticing problems for a living become very good at it but when this spills over into other areas of work and family life it can be a problem.
We are bombarded with competing stimuli for our attention. Our habits act like a filter. A bit like a spam filter on your computer blocking out certain things that you have programmed out. Like obnoxious emails or spam. So your brain filters for what is familiar to you and you notice more of that. Scientists estimate we remember or consciously deal with only one out of every 100 pieces of information we receive. The rest is dumped in our ‘mental spam’ box to help auditors overcome their issue habit the company introduced a number of related programmes.
The accountancy firm introduced a programme to help partners understand the impact of their own emotions on client interactions, team energy and business success. The company wanted to improve the corporate culture, initially in the tax business and then across the organisation. Their hope was that this change would improve its client relationships and relationships in the firm.
The firm worked with the NeuroPower39 which uses a model based on neuroscience findings which identifies 6 ways or preferences which impact how people perceive information and respond in relationships. The RELISH method explores the Six Needs of the Social Brain that drive individual, team and organisational performance. The Six Needs provide a new lens through which the partners could view the complexity and intricacies of human behaviour. They reveal the core elements of human motivation and offer a comprehensive approach to understanding themselves and others in the work environment. The Six Needs affect the way people lead, communicate, build teams and relate to others. The bases of the model is that our habits or preferences mean that we focus on one or two of these areas more than others. This sets us up to expect others to have the same preferences. This assumption is when issues arise in communications and understanding. The NeuroPower model also says that there is an order in any high performing relationship and if the early preferences are not met later ones will not happen or happen in a dysfunctional way.
In the first part of the programme partners also looked at their own emotional profiles, these are called “core beliefs” in the model used, and the profiles of their colleagues and clients, and learned to analyse their profile and triggered behaviours and to flex their behaviour to improve relationships with others. Understanding the impact of core beliefs or mental models on cognitive bias, tunnel thinking, behavioural change, resistance and motivation The models helped the partners look at how the brain’s limbic system drives people’s reactions, mental models and behaviour – including how they resist change, their triggers for conflict, what motivates them, their preferred communication styles and how they make decisions. During this part of the programme the partners explored how emotions impact on the effectiveness of individuals and their relationships with clients. Partners learnt how to use conflict to drive agility, creativity, innovation, constructive problem-solving and unbiased thinking.
The personal insight into their emotional profile, including their core beliefs, and the impact of these on interactions provided great personal insight for partners. In addition, experiential stimulations enable partners to practice new behaviours and tools in a safe environment but one that was close enough to the real work challenges that they were stretched to try new behaviours and skills. Partners got better at “reading the emotions” of other people: engaging more personally with clients and their teams; asking how people felt rather than just what they wanted; overcoming their own self- created “narrative” about why a client didn’t want a particular solution, and moving to asking for business and building meaningful relationships.
The programme also covered “labelling” of emotions as a means of managing difficult conversations and conflicts and “faulty thinking” to test assumptions that could be holding back a relationship or masking an issue with what the client really wanted rather than what the partner assumed they needed. The training and practice helped partners recognise and manage their emotional reactions and pause to engage their rational brain rather than let the threat response manage the conversation.
For example, partners were encouraged to ask for client feedback rather than allow a fear of what they might hear to put them into threat and avoidance. Partners were challenged to understand that they were often operating from assumptions rather than true questioning and an understanding of their clients’ needs.
Appreciative enquiry techniques were also used alongside questioning techniques to guide the culture to more positive curiosity, with warmth and optimism.
In addition, the use of positive psychology focusing on the strengths of each partner helped to raise collective energy towards the organisation’s ambitions, improve levels of engagement and fostered collaboration by leveraging strengths rather than continuously criticising everyone’s weaknesses. For example, positive psychology guru Martin Seligman40 and appreciative inquiry expert David Cooperrider41 were engaged to lead the firm’s partner conference and to work with partners to engage clients in positive conversations. Tal Ben Shahar42 was engaged to teach positive principles including “re-framing” questions.
The organisation is now using their understanding of the insights from the neuroscience of habit to encourage partners to form new behavioural patterns by practising new behaviours in client relationships and communications for 30 days. Their work has led to an appreciable increase in the pipeline of new work.
What Neuropower‘s client said “NeuroPower provides an extraordinary leap forward. It has enabled us to fast-forward strategically, and has helped us stay ahead of the curve. The value it has created in our business comes through at all different levels, from formulating strategies to engaging personal relationships. The value has definitely exceeded the investment.”
Of course emotions and emotional control are relevant in virtually all aspects of business but some of the areas to play particular attention too are: