Navigating Change workshops

We have been running a unique one-day workshop for a Legal Services client where the majority of participants are lawyers. We have been using the latest neuroscience and psychology along with proven tools and techniques to allow participants to master the ‘head, heart and hands’ elements of change.

The workshop is designed to help participants to:

  • Be familiar with the brain’s key processes, strengths and limitations relating to change
  • Know how we typically react to externally driven changes
  • Understand how to take control of the brain to make externally driven change a more positive experience
  • Know how to use the brain to habituate self-directed change
  • Learn to use a range of tools to support successful change
  • Know how best to support others in times of change

To date over 150 participants have attended the sessions and their evaluations give a Net Promoter Score of 99% i.e. 99% would recommend attending the session to a colleague.

The workshop is a blend of input, group discussion, exercises and personal reflection that allows participants to create their own learning and action points. Participants are invited to define their own context for the workshop i.e. to consider personal, vocational, previous or planned changes as they wish which helps to make the material more personal, relevant and meaningful. The workshop is very interactive and engaging.

This is a small sample of the feedback:

  • Useful insight for all areas of ‘change’ both personal and professional
  • Definitely will strongly encourage other members of my team to attend
  • Very interesting approach to what is often such a negative concept i.e. change
  • Very enjoyable and accessible session
  • A nicely focused session with some very interesting content
  • Interesting and practical
  • Has made me less fearful and given me practical strategies
  • Brilliant, made subject matter engaging and enjoyable
  • Was unsure how ‘cringe worthy’ this would be but a really pleasant surprise and a good day
  • Course was very intelligently presented
  • Very informative and useful, allows me to look at change in a different light
  • An interesting and helpful day. Learned quite a lot. Strategies suggested to manage change were useful
  • Some very useful ideas, with useful follow up reading.
  • Excellent, well worth the day out of work!
  • Very interesting, enjoyable, inspiring course

If you would like to know more about this unique, innovative and practical workshop please contact us

Fixed or growth?

Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets offers some very useful insights into how our mindset can play a really significant part in what we achieve – or don’t – and often without us even being aware of it. Dweck has expanded her original work – which looked primarily at individuals – to look at the role of mindset at the organisational level and how this can impact on performance. Unsurprisingly she concludes that whether an organisation has a fixed or growth mindset culture does make a difference; she refers to ‘genius’ or ‘development’ cultures with talent being worshipped in the former at the expense of effort and continuous improvement which are valued by the development culture. Given that the role of organisational culture is, in part, to perpetuate itself, it is clear that breaking an organisation out of a fixed mindset is a considerable task. This can be exasperated by learned helplessness which can permeate an organisation with a sense of ‘yes, but there’s nothing we can do about it’ when it comes to change and improvement so that in time people don’t even notice opportunities for respite or change.

Getting everyone in the organisation to understand neuroplasticity will be a great first step to changing a fixed mindset culture and informing people about the power of habit and the effort required to consciously change habits will also help. This needs to happen at an individual level but the organisations cultural artefacts such as policies, processes, procedures, politics etc. also need to be changed so that they no longer reinforce a fixed mindset but instead promote a growth culture. The nature of the growth focus is also important i.e. an emphasis on continuously growing bigger may mean more of the same and ‘sweating the assets’ as much as possible, whereas an emphasis on growing better focuses on continuous improvement and development – which is likely to lead to growth.

What a difference a word can make

What a difference a word can make

All of our work at Think Change is based around change; be this at an individual, team or organisation level.  In particular it is about making change more effective, sustainable and positive than the current track record.

Amongst the change models we frequently refer to are the Change Curve based on the work of Kubler Ross and the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) devised by Prochaska & DiClemente.  Obviously both of these need to be adapted for usage in a work context but they have both proved to be very valuable.

The Change Curve helps people understand our typical reaction to externally mediated change and can help us to plan, lead, manage and embed change more effectively whilst TTM gives individuals a roadmap for making deliberate personal changes.

We underpin these models with the neuroscience of how the brain processes change and why, generally speaking, it is inclined to resist change for both structural and emotional reasons.

In the context of leading/managing others through change the topic of ‘resistance to change’ often comes up; but in discussions about this most people arrive at the conclusion that ‘resistance’ to change is actually a manifestation of anxiety about change. And how, as managers and leaders, we respond to anxiety tends to be radically different to how we might address resistance.  Neuroscience in also helping us to understand ‘the anxious brain’ and identify real, tangible steps that we can build into our change management systems, processes, communications etc. to help make change a more positive and successful experience for all concerned.

Five neuroscience findings that all leaders and managers should be aware of

 The brain is no longer a ‘black box’ as, thanks to the advances in neural measurement and imaging, we now have a much greater insight and understanding into how it works and the associated strengths and limitations.  Aspects of the brain that are particularly relevant to the world of work include: how the brain processes change, its’ emotional and social elements, how creativity, innovation and insight occur, and how to develop the brains stamina and resilience.  To be effective in the workplace leaders and managers should be aware of these points and how to work with them


1.   Neuroplasticity

We now know, contrary to the long accepted science, that the adult brain can change and that we can take deliberate control of this. Being able to use our brain to change our habituated perceptions, thinking and behaviour is tremendously liberating.  To be effective this neuroplasticity needs to be self-directed (SDNP) and this has big implications for how we lead and manage change in organisations e.g. it helps explain why traditional ‘top telling the middle what to do to the bottom’ change approaches are unlikely to be effective and why organic, bottom-up change is much more likely to succeed.

2.   Habit

We take conscious control of our brain for maybe twenty per cent of our active day, the rest of the time we work from habit. The brain relies on, and likes habit and can be reluctant to move away from established habits; but with the correct attention density focus we can create and embed new neural pathways that become our default response.  Creating these new pathways can be hard work but we now know some of the ways to make it easier e.g. getting the right mix of frequency, duration and quality of focus, using repetition and reward effectively, creating the right conditions for SDNP to occur.  To see the power of habit at work try playing ‘predict the meeting’ in your organisation.  Before a regular meeting write down as much detail as you can of how you think it will play out.  The results may well surprise you.

3.   Limited capacity

Our brain has a finite capacity for consciously processing new or challenging situations and we deplete this capacity as we go through the day.  By day’s end we may have exhausted it and this helps explain why so many good intentions fall by the wayside in the evening. To make best use of our brain we should plan to do our cognitive ‘heavy lifting’ early in the day – and before our brain has been contaminated by checking our email; almost inevitably there will be something in our inbox that will provoke our emotional brain (the amygdala) and set in motion the near constant tension between it and our logical brain (pre-frontal cortex).  You know that the amygdala has won – as it usually will –  when it dawns on you that instead of forwarding your snarky remark just to your colleague, you have instead hit ‘reply to all’.

4.   A healthy brain

To maintain a healthy brain we need to eat well, sleep well and exercise regularly.  Although the adult brain only accounts for three per cent of body weight, it can consume up to twenty five per cent of our calorific intake and needs regular supplies of glucose to function at its best.  Skipped lunches and caffeine overdoses are not good for the brain. The brain also needs regular, undisturbed sleep and the absence of this has been shown to have a significant, negative impact on processing speeds and memory.  Regular aerobic exercise is good for the brain as it supports neurogenesis i.e. the creation of new neurons, and the repairing of damaged neurons, that enable neuroplasticity.

5.   The modern workplace is not very brain friendly

Todays’ typical world of work is quite brain unfriendly as relentless pressure (even if low level) and frequent interruptions leave the brain in a near permanent ‘threat response’ mode. This persistent heightened arousal is unhelpful in many ways not least of which is how tiring it is. To be effective at work we need to be able to find a space (both physical and emotional) where the brain can be calm, quiet and stress-free.  If we can manage to do this then our focus, problem solving, relationships, creativity etc. etc. can all flourish and flow.





Expectation shapes reality?

As often seems to be the case we had a really great meeting this week – on Monday morning no less – that was characterised by lots of enthusiasm, positivity and creativity.  In my mind these three elements are interconnected with positivity possibly being first amongst equals.  The power of positivity is well documented; be it from John Gottman and his remarkable work on marital stability and relationship analysis; or from Barbara Fredrickson and her Positivity Ratio.  At this meeting there was a very positive atmosphere that led to some great ideas emerging which in turn almost seemed to create a virtuous circle or more enthusiasm and positivity.  

Thinking about this virtuous circle also made me reflect on a recent change management exercise we ran with a client where participants are separated (in different rooms) into a large and a small group who are given a brief that explicitly states that they are required to cooperate with the other group to achieve a task.  However there are some other, very subtle, cues in the brief that inevitably – i.e. every time we have used the exercise – cause the groups to be suspicious of each other and find themselves in a destructive, (but very funny to observe!) doom loop pretty much from the start.

When we debrief the exercise both groups tend to be more than a little bashful about how quickly they fell into playing to stereotypes in their perceptions, thinking and behaviour.   Some of this can be explained by the brain’s change averse nature and it’s default expectation that change will be painful and unpleasant – a model that served our ancestors well in times long since passed.  However, in the world of work, with incessant change this subconscious, default ‘change is bad’ mental model tends to be very unhelpful as our expectation of how things will be has a very significant impact on how we perceive them to be – the actual reality of the situation tends not to get much of a look-in.

So maybe we had a great meeting because we have had lots of them recently and so expect them to be great?  Food for thought maybe if you are having lots of ‘predictable, boring, unproductive’ meetings in your world at the moment?