There are three significant trends within the HR space in organisations, according to an expert on neuroscience, emotional intelligence and positive psychology, who explained that these trends are part of a broader shift towards building better leaders and more sustainable workplaces.
The first key trend is an increased focus on wellbeing, with many organisations looking to develop and implement wellbeing initiatives that have a measurable impact on employees and organisational outcomes.
“Many organisations actually have more money to spend, from an L&D perspective, on wellbeing than they do on leadership at the moment because a lot of organisations are obviously realising the impact of higher levels of wellbeing on performance and productivity,” said Sue Langley, CEO of Emotional Intelligence Worldwide and Langley Group.
“All the research tells them that, but common sense also tells us that happier people tend to be healthier.”
This trend towards wellbeing is also linked to performance and productivity, and Langley said many companies are genuinely interested in employee wellbeing.
“I’m seeing some clients doing some good work in this space, but I have also seen other people who are just trying to do it and tick a box, which of course won’t work for them long term anyway.”
“People are realising they can’t just say, ‘we want to be innovative’ and people will rush to be innovative”
Another key trend can be found in a different approach to leadership development, according to Langley, who said this trend is also linked to wellbeing and extends beyond traditional training on functional aspects of leadership.
“There is much more interest in the people side of leadership and bringing in positive psychology, to help leaders create the right environment so people will make better decisions and be more effective in what they do,” she said.
The third key trend is innovation, and Langley said many organisations both in the private and public sectors genuinely want to build cultures of innovation.
“People are realising they can’t just say, ‘we want to be innovative’ and people will rush to be innovative.
“You actually have to get the climate and the culture right first; it’s not just something you can tell people to be innovative.
“Employees have to work in a supportive, safe environment where it’s okay to fail, and lots of organisations don’t have that kind of culture yet,” she said.
“There is a shift away from the likes of psychometric assessments where we put people in a box, because of what we’re learning from a neuroscience perspective about the brain and change”
Similarly, Langley said many organisations are looking to develop a more robust approach to learning & development in the future, with an increased focus on neuroscience and its application to lasting change.
“People like and get the neuroscience side of things because it helps them understand,” she said.
“There is a shift away from the likes of psychometric assessments where we put people in a box, because of what we’re learning from a neuroscience perspective about the brain and change.”
“When people understand the why, they’re more likely to be able to do something about it. “So when we talk about the neuroscience of the brain, neuroscience of change, and neuroscience of habit, we are talking about how habits are formed.
“Therefore people can understand why they have challenges with change, and why people find it hard to make behaviour change stick.
“I find that once people have got the science behind it (and I’m not saying it solves all your problems) it makes it easier for people to be able to start to make those changes.
“This then starts to create a ripple effect through a business, so this can be built on further.
“If people are in a meeting and start talking about positive/negative ratios, for example, then if they’ve gone through the same training they know what they’re talking about and can help support them.”
“It’s about teaching people how to be the best version of themselves – which means they show up as better versions of leaders”
In this way, change can occur at any level of an organisation, according to Langley, who said that when it starts and grows at the “ground roots” level, executives and other leaders can “sit up and take notice” as well.
“Often we talk about how leadership has to start at the top, which in theory is nice if it does, but when it comes to cognitive psychology and neuroscience it’s about teaching people how to be the best version of themselves – which means they show up as better versions of leaders.
“This then that can have a real ripple effect through an organisation, and can initiate a groundswell of positive change which can attract the attention of senior leaders.”
Langley predicted this focus on the application of neuroscience to leadership will continue, and also pointed to the incorporation of new forms of technology such as biofeedback and wearables.
“Technology is now enabling us to literally monitor, quite cost effectively, people’s day-to-day wellbeing from physical and other perspectives,” said Langley.
“This technology is getting so much cheaper now too, so I think there will be elements of this that will start to come into use on a daily basis for people who want to get the best out of themselves.”
“With performance development we’ve been focusing on what’s wrong with people, what they need to fix, and what their development opportunities might be – which is basically focusing on their weaknesses”
Langley drew a comparison between other approaches to self-improvement and personal development which have long been practised, and increased use of technology such as wearables.
“Once upon a time yoga was considered something that people did in India, but now many people do it and it’s quite normal,” she said.
“Similarly, meditation was something you only did if you were a Buddhist, for example, but now many people do it and this is continuing to grow.
“I think it will be the same from a brain and body monitoring perspective on the technology side of things as well.”
For HR and L&D professionals, Langley said it was important to take a strong evidence-based approach to leadership development and the application of neuroscience.
“Lots of people are now starting to learn about how the brain works and realising that a lot of the things we’ve been doing aren’t necessarily the best approach.
“For example, with performance development, we’ve been focusing on what’s wrong with people, what they need to fix, and what their development opportunities might be – which is basically focusing on their weaknesses.
‘It doesn’t work, and we know this,” said Langley, who pointed to a research study by the Corporate Leadership Council which found there was a 26.4 per cent drop in performance over 12 months by focusing on a team’s weaknesses.
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