This week, Linda Ray co-founder and co-director of neuresource group, presents the SCARE model as a platform for understanding what goes on in your brain at work and a platform for building resilience in your organisation.
In my work, I get to visit many organisations and a common themes that keeps arising are people are juggling uncertainty, being asked to do more with less, there are rising levels of stress and people are change fatigued. Engagement levels are often low or at best a bit patchy and the climate of uncertainty and pace of change is impacting on performance and well-being.
Understanding a bit about our basic neurobiology can be profoundly helpful in supporting people to adjust behaviour and mindset. How can understanding our basic neurobiology help?
Everything the brain does and every decision it helps us make is geared towards threat or reward, something designed to guarantee survival.
Dr Evian Gordon identified this as the overarching organising principle of the brain, the purpose of which is to classify the world into things that will either hurt you or help you stay alive. ‘Everything you do in life is based on your brain’s determination to minimise danger and maximise reward’. (Gordon 2008).
This means that for every stimulus we encounter, the brain will tag it as either good (reward) or bad (threat) and consequently choose to engage (approach) or disengage (avoid). Both threat and reward are primary motivators: we avoid threats and we approach rewards. This becomes a fundamental premise in understanding what is driving behaviour in the workplace. When we experience a reward we see the reward circuitry of the brain activated. When we feel threatened the threat circuitry of our brain is activated.
Our brain is a social organ. Our limbic system filters all responses. If we sense a social connection ‘threat’, such as being overlooked for promotion or being ignored or victimised, we can choose to suppress this feeling or to self-regulate in a number of ways; but it’s more complicated than that. Since the limbic system acts as a survival tool, it frequently overacts, so finding ways to reduce threats not only for ourselves is important in order to help keep ourselves and others in a reward state.
Life is full of complex social events such as being accepted or rejected, treated fairly or unfairly, and being esteemed or devalued by others. Our responses to these events depend primarily on our psychological interpretation of them. As leaders we can unintentionally generate a threat in domains our social brain pays attention to in the workplace. The social domains in the workplace were classified into 5 inter dependent domains (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness) by David Rock 2009. Building upon Rock’s SCARF model we have come up with a slightly different version of this model which we have called the ‘SCARE’ model (significance, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and equity).
We know that productivity plummets in the workplace when our social brain no longer feels safe and can impact significantly on our executive brain. Addressing the domains of SCARE will support innovation, engagement and productivity
Let’s take a closer look at the domains our social brain pays attention to.
Significance – in any social situation we care about the degree to which we feel a significant member of a group or in relation to the contribution we bring to a group. When we feel less significant than others or feel our contribution is not of value or not valued by others this can generate a significant threat and activate our limbic brain.
Certainty – Our brain is highly geared to prediction. Uncertainty about your role or a situation or purpose causes significant uncertainty and we can use up vital resources available to our thinking brain in trying to find and create certainty.
Autonomy – no one likes being told what to do which is why micro managing doesn’t work. We like to feel we have choices over our work and destiny.
Relatedness – we are born to crave social connection and feel part of a group or tribe. When we see others as foe or not in our ‘in group’ this can generate threat given our need for social connection and belonging.
Equity – we like to feel we are being treated equitably and get a fair share. When we feel others are getting a better deal or that we are being treated in an unjust way this can generate a significant threat.
As we navigate the social world of work we experience threat or reward in each of these domains on a daily basis. The key in improving our own performance and that of others is being mindful of how easy it is to experience or generate threat in any of these domains. We can also work more mindfully to generate reward in each of these domains. When we are in a constant state of threat this impacts significantly on our capacity to make decisions, problem solve and be creative and innovative. Armed with some knowledge about our brain we can be better leaders and create a better environment in the workplace.
Watch a quick video on SCARE ..
We invite you to join us at our next workshop event and learn the tools to apply the SCARE model and learn how you can be in charge of your brain and not let it SCARE you. Join us at our next event Leading with the Brain in Mind.