How Neuroscience Makes a Difference for Change Acquisition?


It's only just a little more than a decade ago that we started really understanding Change Acquisition. We knew that change acquisition was what people actually applied and adopted into practice as a result of workshops, coaching, team development, and change management efforts. But without access to what goes on inside the brain, we were mostly in the dark in terms of how to get people to actually do the adoption or application part.

Over the years, we got extremely good at diagnosing the current state and defining what end-result, effective performances look like. Unfortunatly, how to get people from point A to point B was still somewhat foggy. We can share the best practices and skills with people, but how do we get them to buy-in and make needed sustainable behavioral changes?

There is this saying, "you can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink." That totally applied to traditional change models. I remember the feeling well. All we could do was deliver the best water, but if people listened, then went back to their desk and adopted little if any of what we shared with them, there was really nothing we could do about it.

The exciting part is that thanks to neuroscience, this hidden, mysterious, seemingly out of our area of influence part of change is now revealed. It's true that in the end you can't force anyone to change. In the end, it is a choice. But going back to the horse analogy, we now know how to make the water much more enticing. We know how to get the brain ready, metaphorically getting the horse to walk a long distance in the hot sun and the water looking so fresh and inviting, that the brain easily prefers to engage.

Before neuroscience, we had no access to what goes on in the middle. So we became really good at teaching the end part. We had to be highly effective at the diagnosis and goal setting aspects. When we wanted people to adopt more effective leadership styles, we learned and provided our clients with everything there is to know about effective leadership. We "broke" effective leadership into digestible pieces and we got people to practice those desired effective leadership behaviors. These are really valuable assets but unfortunately, without understanding the middle part, many change efforts had more time and energy investments to show for than people adopting needed changes.

When we wanted people to adopt a new culture, we drew the behaviors associated with the new culture as clearly as humanly possible for people. We helped them see the value of the new culture and the rational behind it. We provides training and we tried to make the new culture tangible and accessible for them. Becoming so good at understanding this part of change facilitation will probably always serve us extremely well, but unfortunately, without having access to the changes individuals need to make to adopt new behaviors into practice in a lasting way, many changes reached high levels of awareness but got stuck there.