S 6 Ein

October 4th, 2021

Your Brain At Work LIVE – S6:E02 – Managing in a Hybrid World: Surveillance vs. Outcome Focus

As work – and our connection to work – keeps shifting, many popular thought pieces and research are rooted in the same foundational question: What does a manager need to do now? How have managerial roles evolved as a result of the pandemic and remote/hybrid models? 


One of the major ways is a shift from “surveillance” focus – i.e. “I value having strong oversight of my teams and what they’re working on,” to prioritizing focus on “outcomes”, which is aligned to achieving key goals.


This is a massive adjustment for some managers and organizations- and adaptation can prove even more challenging. However, it is possible, and your turnover, profit, productivity, and culture can all benefit.


In this episode of Your Brain At Work, we dive deeper into surveillance vs. outcomes and investigate how managers can successfully shift their approach and continue to establish a positive and productive workplace for their teams.

Episode Transcript





[00:00:02] SW: Welcome back to season six, episode two of Your Brain at Work podcast. As work and our connection to work keep shifting, many popular thought pieces in research are rooted in the same foundational question. What does a manager need to do now? How have managerial roles evolved as a result of the pandemic and remote hybrid roles? One of the major ways is a shift from surveillance focus, i.e. I value having strong oversight of my teams and what they’re working on to prioritizing focus on outcomes, which is aligned to achieving key goals. This is a massive adjustment for some managers and organizations, and adaption can prove even more challenging. However, it is possible and your turnover, profit, productivity and culture can all benefit. 


In this episode of Your Brain at Work we dive deeper into surveillance versus outcomes and investigate how managers can successfully shift their approach and continue to establish a positive and productive workplace for their teams. I’m Shelby Wilburn, and you’re listening to Your Brain at Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday. This week our panel consists of Dr. David Rock, CEO and co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute; Dr. Ryan Curl, an NLI researcher; and Yvonne Wolf, an NLI senior consultant. Enjoy. 




[00:01:28] DR: It’s great to be here with you all. Actually, we just got back in HBR. There were challenges writing in there. But we’re back in there. We had a piece just come out yesterday about the challenges of the mandates and the brain and how to address those. So one of my team can maybe throw that in the chat. But we’re not here to talk about mandates. We are here to talk about some contentious stuff though. And I’m delighted to have Yvonne join us today who joined our team fairly recently, but we’ve been collaborating with for a long time. And also Ryan, who’s on our research team, who is wicked smart and helping us build the workplaces of the future. So welcome to both of you. 


I’m going to do probably a lot of the talking, and then Yvonne is going to bring a little bit of the organizational perspective. Ryan, some of the neuroscience. We’re going to dig into a little more science today than we have for a few of these, because I think this is such an important topic. It’s such a big topic and I think probably timely what’s happening out there. If you’re new to NLI, you usually have a few new people. Just a bit of context about us, we make organizations more human through science. In fact, one of our mantras is follow the science experiment, follow the data. And that’s what we do in the realm of everything to do with leading people. 


We’ve been around a long time. We’re actually about 209 people full-time I just discovered, and growing, and hiring. So I’ll just throw that out there. Working with over half of the fortune 100 and very globally, although also very locally with smaller organizations now, all the way down to schools even we’re supporting here in North America. 


This topic of surveillance focus versus outcome focus is something we’ve been kind of playing with in different papers. And we’ve got a bunch of different research. We just published a piece directly on this topic. My team can put that in the chat note and read it right now. I’m going to draw a little bit from that, but also some deeper thinking we’ve done over the last few weeks. And also going to draw from some of our research on outcome focus directly and just important insights about the way to get that right and what’s involved in that. 


Firstly, what is this big idea, surveillance focus versus outcome focus? And being a scientist I’m going to start with a disclaimer, if you manage trillions of dollars, you probably need a surveillance focus, right? You don’t want someone to click something and a billion dollars ends up in the wrong place, right? Or if you’re the US Federal Reserve, you may need a certain amount of surveillance focus. If you have a team of people who literally polish diamonds, you’re probably going to need some surveillance focus. So they’re definitely contexts in which really overseeing people is relevant, but they’re few and far between. 


But what we’ve seen is this big rise in a surveillance culture as a function of the pandemic. And we have concerns about it. I’ll share in detail what they are. I think the opposite of that is an outcomes focus. And outcomes focus is kind of letting go of trying to kind of control and instead letting people head somewhere. So we’re going to dig into what that is in quite some detail, in particular look at the effect on the brain that we think would be happening. But it’s really topical. And I think the technology surveillance issue is a real problem. I don’t agree with that. I think it has a lot more downside than upside. But I think there’s an even bigger issue than the technology surveillance that’s happening, and that’s managers who are having a surveillance kind of mindset. 


So it’s not just about the technology. It’s actually about the way a lot of managers have accidentally kind of gone the wrong way during the last 18 months. And if we think that lots of people are going to be working from home probably forever, getting this mindset right is going to be pretty important, because if your managers are really clamping down on people who are at home and then being different with people in the office, you’re going to have some problems. And you have to bet a big number of people are going to be working at home for a very, very long time.


So the technology is a piece of it. I’m not going to really talk about the specific technology. I think it’s actually about the trend that’s happening that it’ll probably keep happening if we don’t address it as well. So what’s happening now is the office was comforting to managers. And if you were not a great manager, you could still be decent in the office. You’d see people, so you could connect. You didn’t have to be a great manager to do okay as a manager in the office. And the office was sort of comforting. Like you saw people, you know what was going on. It’s really easy to do things.


The virtual world, some of those comforts have disappeared. And it’s literally harder to do a lot of things. It’s harder to literally check in with someone. It’s harder to know how someone’s doing. It’s harder to know how someone’s feeling. It’s all these things. So it’s literally less comfortable. Now, does that mean it’s worse? And I have I have a strong hypothesis on this. And we’ve been talking about this recently. I think working virtually and if you get a few things right, working virtually or in a hybrid way even, a mix of virtual and in the office, doing that right, if you get a few key things right, is actually better for business. And I can say that because we’ve been doing it for three or four years well before the pandemic and it helped us tremendously deliver better product, grow easier, faster, better, hire better, all of this. 


So I believe that having a hybrid workplace with a few key things you do right is actually better for most organizations, maybe not everyone, but for most organizations. But that doesn’t mean it’s comfortable, right? And I think this is an important insight. So I’ll tell you several other things that are not particularly comfortable that are actually good for you. Exercising, not particularly comfortable especially until you’ve got like a month or two momentum, but really good for you, right? Studying, getting a new degree. Not particularly comfortable, really good for you. By the way, diverse teams, not particularly comfortable. Actually much better for you.


So there’re a number of things that are not necessarily comfortable that actually end up being better for you. And we believe that getting hybrid right is one of those. But what’s happening is the discomfort is causing an issue for a lot of managers. So why is that? Let’s dig into the science. Why is the discomfort an issue? So your brain’s tracking everything every second looking for what’s good, what’s bad, what should you move toward, what should you stay away from? Is this a nice person you should see again? Is this an awful person you should never see again? Is this a book you want to pick up? Is this a book you want to never look at again? Like you’re making this pretty binary decision about everything all the time as a way of keeping you alive. 


Now what happens in the brain is when you can’t calculate if something’s good or bad, your brain basically anchors on it’s very bad, it must be bad. And so uncertainty ends up being actually worse than a known bad in the brain. And it’s really interesting. It’s not just a metaphor. It’s been studied quite extensively. But essentially what we see in the study is you’re showing people positive faces, negative faces, neutral faces, uncertain faces. And the very bottom line there that is actually an uncertain face. And so what you see in this study is the brain is lighting up more, particularly the amygdala, the threat system, is actually lighting up more with an uncertain face than someone actually negative, looking angry at you. 


And there’re lots of different studies showing a similar thing that this is what happens. So the absence of information, the brain tends to assume the worst. And this has adaptive kind of background to it. It’s just safer if you’re not sure if something’s good or bad to assume it’s bad in case it is, because if you don’t know what a food is and it poisons you, you’re going to die, right? So it’s bad. Stay away from it. If you miss a reward, you might miss lunch. But if you miss a threat, you might be lunch also. So it’s like just better. It’s just safer to assume especially in a really dangerous world, that if something’s uncertain, just stay away. 


But what happens in this time is lots of things are uncertain for managers, and it just feels really, really threatening. So that’s one of the issues. But actually there’s more than just that. There’s really a raft of things that’s happening in managers’ brains, and particularly certainty is a big one. But there’re actually issues across all of the domains, status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness. And I’ll walk through this and then maybe Yvonne and Ryan can add some comments. But to managers right now, it’s really interesting. Their status is kind of threatened. You used to be able to like just walk into someone’s office and say, “I need to talk,” right? And kind of demonstrate authority. You have to now ask someone to set up time to talk to them. And even on these platforms, it’s kind of equal, right? So it’s really hard to demonstrate authority. If authority really matters to someone, that’s an issue. 


Secondly, you can’t actually see if work is being done. That’s a certainty issue, right? Or how people are feeling, or if they’re about to quit, or what’s going on. I mean, you literally can’t see what’s going on. That’s a lot of uncertainty. That’s like the biggest issue. 


Probably the second biggest one is you don’t feel like you’re in control of your team. And that’s probably a close second to the certainty issue. Like I don’t feel like I’m in control of my team. I don’t know what’s really going on. And a feeling of lack of control is a real issue. But also I don’t feel connected to my people. I don’t know if they’re listening to me. I don’t know if we’ve got a good relationship or not. This is a big issue. We’re going to dig into this next week actually, the sort of how do we maintain these connections in this time. And then finally, all this extra effort feels unfair. Like why do I have to do all this extra work to connect with people, to see how they’re doing? I’ve got to work a lot more hours as a manager just to do check-ins with people. So fairness is not such a big issue, but certainty is a big one. Autonomy is a close second. 


Yvonne and Ryan, any comments you want to add here about what it might feel like to managers and what’s going on here? 


[00:10:51] YW: Yes. Thank you, David. I have a couple of comments both what it might feel like for managers and also what it might even feel like for employees, because I can bring that perspective as well. And I also want to make a comment on something you said earlier about – And I thought that was really profound, David, the fact that having this hybrid workplace could create more difference in terms of how we’re treating employees. So I want to give a real life example of how one of my managers who is also an NLI super fan used the SCARF model to treat me when I was working in a hybrid environment. So the majority of the workforce was actually inside and I was outside. 


And what helped me with SCARF was actually even to find my own voice. So my SCARF, I lead with fairness and relatedness. And my boss knew that well. And he knew that I was away, whereas everybody else was in the office. So thinking about status and certainty, one of the things that he would do is he made it a priority for me to be able to reach out to him. The team and his assistant knew, “If Yvonne needed to reach Peter,” and I’ll say his name, because he’s an amazing manager, again leveraging this thought process, I was a priority.


[00:12:04] DR: Yeah, I know that’s great. Yeah, that’s good. Ryan, anything you want to add on just what it might feel like to managers? And particularly, we’ll talk about the employees in a little bit. But what does it feel like to managers? Any thoughts there?


[00:12:14] RC: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, David. I think the first thought is part of the transition to a hybrid workplace, and David you talked about how there could be some discomfort associated with that. It’s also the fact that it’s a change, right? There could be a future where we’re very comfortable in a hybrid workplace, but we’re not there yet. We’re dealing with those growing pains. And we might end up going down the wrong path because of these threats we’re feeling through this transition. I think that’s key too, because we shouldn’t be convinced that we will forever be in an uncomfortable situation. We should work towards creating the environment that we want in this hybrid workplace. 


And then in terms of SCARF threats, I think another important thing to add is the potential for these things to feed off of each other to some degree. You might be uncertain transitioning to a hybrid workplace regarding the degree of control you will end up having over your team. So you’re feeling an autonomy threat, but it’s also an uncertainty around that. And then in that same regard, you might feel like you’re losing control of your team. And that control over your team is linked to your status in some way. So these things are feeding off of each other and fueling each other for this more intense threat response as well.


[00:13:21] DR: Yeah. Yeah, great. So there’s a dynamic. And what we know with SCARF is that when you’re already in a little bit of a threat, for example, you’re feeling really uncertain, you’re more likely to see other things as threats. So they actually kind of make each other worse, right? Like if you’re happy and someone says, “Hey, what’s happening on that project?” You’ll probably hear it positively. If you’re already really uncertain about whether you have a job next week and someone says that, you’re much more likely to react in a status way or a fairness way. So these things can make each other worse or they can actually balance each other as well. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. 


So if you have a manager experiencing all five of these, it can be a real issue. Someone who’s feeling they’ve lost their authority, they have no idea what’s happening, they feel really out of control, and they haven’t worked out how to sort of settle into this yet. And I think a lot of managers are like, “Oh, it’s okay. Wow we’re about to go back to work. It’s okay. We’ll be back to work soon. It’ll all be fine.” I personally don’t believe that. I think that most organizations are going to have 20%, 30%, 40%, 50% of people working at home for quite some years, if not forever. So you better get good at this, because if you treat people out of the office differently to in the office and you don’t get good at the platform world, you’re going to have issues. 


So we sort of talked about this earlier, but threat in one area leads to seeking rewards in another. So if you’re a manager and you’re feeling a lot of threats, you’re going to try and double down on that and say, “All right, I need to feel better.” When Hurricane Sandy hit, we lost certainty, autonomy. What we did to feel better was increased relatedness. We all met our neighbors in Manhattan. And we felt better because we have more people around, right? 


So this is what we do. When we’re threatened in some areas, we balance in the other. And what managers are probably going to try and do is create a greater sense of certainty themselves and a greater sense of control. They’re probably going to try and do that. What this might look like is like I want to know everything you did every day. Send me an activity report of what you did. Or a weekly check-in of everything that you covered. This thing takes a huge amount of time for people to do, and they’re already overloaded. Employees needing permission, “I need to go for a doctor’s appointment. Is that okay?” Tracking obviously the technology stuff, tracking computer activity remotely. Asking to be copied on everything, right? Which maybe you didn’t used to do, but now the manager is saying, “Hey, I want to be copied on everything. It’s kind of insulting.” And just generally closer monitoring of everything. And so these are some of the things that can really happen as a result of what managers are feeling. 


Now one of the factors of this to keep in mind is a little bit of power changes the brain for the person who has it. Now we’ve published widely on this. We’ve got a big piece in courts on this and some other pieces that pull this apart. It’s a really important framework. We did a lot of research on this. We found that even a little bit of power like being a team lead changes your brain in three ways. The first thing is you think of people as essentially objects for your goals and you stop mentalizing people as people. So if you’re interacting with someone, you’ve got a little bit of power over them if you’re the boss. You’re much less likely to actually animate their goals, or feelings, or intentions in your mind. And you’re much more likely to think about them conceptually and connect that person to how you can use them in different ways, et cetera. So you actually become much more goal-focused when interacting with people, where when you go out and have a drink that night with someone, you don’t do that. You’re much more people-focused. So you’ll miss how people are feeling and the reactions people are having because you’re doing that with power. 


The second thing is you become much more optimistic with a little bit of power. It puts you in a towards state. So again, you’re much less likely to notice people might be reacting badly to your micromanagement, because you’re very optimistic. You’re not noticing negative signals, negative cues. And another one is you’re much higher construal, which means essentially you’re thinking in a more abstract way, more vision level, and less about the actual details of what’s happening. So we think of this as people, risk and details. The pride of power, people, risk and details. And these three things happen even in very small amounts of power. 


So what’s going on in the manager’s brain is they’re feeling threatened. With that bit of power they don’t necessarily pay a lot of attention to how other people are feeling, or concerned about it, or getting into the details of it. And as a result they don’t notice that micromanaging might be a real issue. So these are some of the things going on. Let’s dig in a little further. What can this do to employees? Let’s think a little bit about employees and what can happen to them. 


So firstly, they won’t feel trusted and respected. If your boss says I need you to send me a report every day of what you do. The first thing you’re going to feel is I don’t feel really trusted. I’m being monitored. So it’s a big status threat. You also don’t know how much you’re being monitored. Is someone listening to your phone calls? Is someone reading your emails? Like you start generalizing the feeling of monitor, and like do I have anything private at all? And you get a certainty threat. The big one is you don’t have control of your time. You have to check if you’re going to go for a run. You have to check if you’re going to go to the doc. You have to check if you’re going to change your hours. 


Obviously, this is a big one, is that you don’t feel like your boss has a shared goal with you. So you make your boss in your out group. They’ve got competing goals, not shared goals. And that’s a problem. So you don’t feel like your boss is on your side. You feel like they’re kind of the enemy a bit. And that’s bad. Creating out group with your boss is bad. 


And then a big one also is all this reporting feels like extra work, right? All this reporting feels like extra work with – This is just not fair. I’m working harder than ever, more stressed than ever, and you’re asking me to spend half an hour every single day reporting on everything I did. It just feels unfair. So quite a strong set of SCARF threats that are happening for employees here, which is interesting. So what this would probably result in, a drop in engagement and productivity, probably a drop in collaboration and innovation, and of course harder to retain people particularly independent types, which by the way is most top performers who really think differently. So you’re going to have a lot of trouble holding on to your high performance there, which is a real issue. 


So anyway, let’s have a bit of a conversation about this. Ryan, Yvonne, what are your thoughts? And also we can we can bring up some comments, some questions in the chat. What do you guys have? What concerns do you have regarding the surveillance mindset? What thoughts or concerns? Ryan, you want to go first there?


[00:19:42] RC: Yeah, sure. Thanks, David. So one thing that comes up for me is that it’s pretty clear how too much surveillance could result in a lack of trust and commitment to the organization. You feel like you’re not being trusted, like you’re not being respected when these SCARF threats really get going. What the research has shown in these sorts of situations on top of the other kind of negative consequences that you laid out is the potential for retaliatory behaviors or ways around the surveillance. And that’s been shown over again that employees tend to do those sorts of things. 


So for example, if you’re monitoring certain employee activity, it’s because that activity is probably particularly important to your organization, of course, right? And so you want to keep track of it. And what will come from that though is that employees, when they feel that stress and that discomfort because they know they’re being monitored is that they’ll avoid those tasks, right? They’ll avoid that stress and discomfort that comes with that. So you’re going to get exactly the opposite effect that you want. More of that monitoring is going to result in less of that activity that you want. People are going to be avoiding those things. Or even worse and even more pessimistically, they might falsify that information to make themselves look like as if they’re completing these tasks, right? Especially if they think that’s important for promotions or to avoid termination. 


[00:20:51] DR: Interesting. So more monitoring can have people actually do that thing less, because it’s painful. That’s crazy. Yvonne, I think you had a story about that, or some data, or something we were chatting earlier briefly. You want to tell us about that?


[00:21:03] YW: Yeah. Thank you so much. And Ryan, you’re spot on about the science. I wish I had the benefit of working with you back then when I was head of HR for a manufacturing environment where we did find, Ryan, that employees who were in more a micromanaged environment did tend to cheat on tasks, and because there was a lot of pressure to perform. And it wasn’t that they were bad people. It was just that there was more fear, SCARF, and more pressure to perform. And then we found that environments that had a much more empowering kind of leader, they actually outperformed. They had fewer quality errors and the like. 


And one other comment I want to add to this is I want to bring in the experience of people of diverse talent as relating to what this might feel like. And if you think about a surveillance environment, and this is mentioned actually in the article, a heavy surveillance kind of environment actually could undermine diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. When you think about a lot of black and brown employees have lived the life experience of feeling more scrutinized, and if you bring that into the workplace, which potentially has the benefit of being one of the more trusted environments, you actually could be undermining your efforts to making them feel safe and valued.


[00:22:19] DR: Interesting. And if you think about the people who are working at home, big number of those are a female. And if they’re being monitored, they feel like they’re being monitored really closely, and they feel like people in the office are not being monitored closely, you’re getting a really strong fairness reaction. They might vote with their feet and go where they feel like they’re treated fairly. So it can be an equity issue that happens, for sure. 




[00:22:47] SW: If you enjoy this podcast, you’re going to love our annual conference. The NeuroLeadership Summit coming to you virtually on February 15th through 16th, 2022. We’ll bring business leaders, academics and visionaries from around the globe to an incredible virtual gathering where we’ll zero-in on powerful insights, trends and breakthroughs, as well as the principles of NeuroLeadership all to help leaders and teams adapt faster in a transforming world. Join us online, February 15th through 16th, 2022 and attend sessions available across the globe. You can watch sessions live, participate in breakout rooms, interact with other members of the NLI community, or access content on demand. No matter how you prefer to engage, we promise you won’t want to miss it. To learn more and to save the date, visit summit.neuroleadership.com.




[00:23:44] DR: These dynamics are not new. They’ve been accelerated. It’s really true. And I think average managers could survive in the old days, but so much of management now, when you’re on platforms, has to be intentional. You have to be intentional about meetings and actually make them as short as efficient as you can, not just get together hang out. You need to be intentional about onboarding people, connecting them with exactly the right folks. You need to be intentional about checking in. It doesn’t just happen you randomly run into someone. You need to be intentional about building a relationship. 


And if you don’t have good skills around being really intentional, we use that word a lot, with your people to build the right culture, the right habits, which an average manager often isn’t, you’re going to have issues. And I think what’s happening is we’ve seen this sort of throughout the whole pandemic that it’s required really great leadership for even everyday situations, that in this time when everyone’s kind of anxious and stressed and so uncertain, everyone needs to be a great leader to get good performance happening. So it’s hard to be an average leader in this time. 


Let’s dig in a little more. So let’s talk about the flip side of this. So talk a little bit about the research on being outcomes-focused. And also we’ll brainstorm a little on how to get there. So what’s outcome focus? It’s an environment people are productive and they’re accountable for results. It has a really interesting effect on the brain. So if your boss says, “Look, what great looks like in your role is having all your client calls done by Thursday and having Friday to really catch up and reflect and think deeply and having at least 20 conversations.” If your boss says that and then says, “But you work out how to do that. You work out when you work, where you work, how you work. We want you to have at least 20 conversations. We want to be done by Thursday and take time to catch up on Friday. You work out your hours.” 


What happens is you get this strong status bump, right? I feel trusted to manage myself. You also now know what matters. You know what to head towards, right? And as you get closer to it, it helps with status and with certainty. So if you’re really clear on what matters especially if someone shows you what great looks like, not just what you’re supposed to deliver, but what great looks like in a role, you know what matters. This is a big one. You feel a bit more in control of your chaotic life, right? You can now juggle the kids, juggle your exercise, juggle all sorts of things. Also just work when you’re most productive, right? I’m most productive for like two hours first thing in the morning as soon as I wake up. I’m much less productive two hours later. 


So if I’m writing, I want to literally get up, go straight to work for a couple of hours. Just do that. Before I even shower or have breakfast or anything, I’m just like just sitting down, my fresh mind is coming in. If someone took that away from me, I’d be like, “I can’t do anything like the good work that I could do.” So be able to control your – It’s not just control your life. It’s actually work when, where and how you work best, which a lot of people have been learning about. Of course, there’s relatedness, which is a big one. You feel like you’ve got a shared goal. You’re both triangulating to the same thing, right? And then the final one of course is you feel like you can do your best work. So when someone gives you a performance review, you’re not going to say like, “Well, I couldn’t really work best because you wouldn’t let me.” Say, “No. I did my best work. I was able to do that.” 


So here’s the thing, and I wanted to do a slide of this that we just had the insight before that if you take the negatives and you say a surveillance mindset has these negatives, and then you take the positives of an outcome focus, the gap between those two is enormous. The gap between a manager who has this accidental surveillance mindset and the manager who really focuses on defining what great looks like, the gap is huge in terms of SCARD threats, which is engagement. SCARF is really the neuroscience of engagement. It’ll determine how much of a towards state people are in. So it’s a huge gap. The surveillance mindset’s a really big threat response for most people. The outcomes, mindsets are big reward response. And the gap between those is really quite interesting. We should study that in some way.


Now I want to talk a little more about the outcomes focus. So we published this some years back, 2014 now. There’s a way to understand goals in the brain and kind of outcome focus. There’s a network in the brain for why you do something and then a different network for how you’re doing it. So if I’m picking up a cup of coffee, you’re not really activating the how network even very much. It’s more the actual motor process. So there’s like a why network, a how network, and then motor processes, actions. Those actions are mental or physical. It’s the same process in the cortex. 


So the why network is very important. It’s actually a network that when you activate it, and it literally is a whole network in the brain for why you do something. When I activate, “Oh, I’m drinking coffee so I can stay really focused.” When you activate the why network, it’s motivating. It actually lifts you up to higher control so you can see more information. Really interestingly, it makes you more flexible, right? So if my coffee runs out, I’ll go for water. There we have. So it makes you actually much more flexible when you understand why you’re doing something. But if you’re just following a task, you hit a roadblock, you don’t know where to go. 


So when you have this why network activated – And Eliot Berkman is a fantastic neuroscientist and others have actually looked at this in the brain. There’s literally a specific network for why you do something completely different to how you do it, like the steps involved, completely different to the doing it. Now we framed this into a tool we call choose your focus, which is vision planning, detail, problem, drama. And what leaders need to do is continue to come back to the why and then a little bit on the how, right? So outcome focus is not just this is your goal, but this is why we’re doing it. This is how we’re doing it. And I think it’s really important to focus on what great looks like as well, not just what’s generally expected. But this is what our best performers do. It’s called the study of positive deviancy. So some really interesting research on that. So it’s not just kind of tell people that you got to deliver five calls. It’s why to do it. It’s also what great looks like. And then people are able to really to really dig in. 


[00:29:42] YW: Yeah. I just wanted to underscore the point you’re making about why. Tito asked earlier what is my role as a leader in a hybrid kind of work environment. And as you talk about why, David, I think that’s particularly a more important point more so than ever. And the other is about connecting, which is next week’s – So I’ll do a little shameless plug. Next week’s Your Brain at Work. But I think leaders can do a much better job and really need to do a better job of focusing on the why in a hybrid and in a work remote environment. 


And I’ll even share real quickly a story, my first management experience right out of college. Got a big team doing really mundane work. And here I was you know right out of business school thinking, “Okay, I knew everything that needed to be done.” And it was actually a really seasoned employee who probably could have been my grandmother, literally. And she said to me, “Yvonne, if you want us to do this task, please help make sure we know the why.” And the more people understand the why, the more likely they are to activate all the areas of SCARF that we talked about, autonomy, and relatedness, and the ongoing. So I just wanted to underscore that point about why. And Tito, to your point, this is a space where we can add more value in the workplace in a remote, as well as in a hybrid environment. 


[00:30:59] RC: When you have this activity surveillance going on, you’re going to dis-incentivize making mistakes, right? Because those are going to show up on this kind of objective record. And what we want is an organization that supports growth and development and then can monitor outcomes as a result and see those outcomes become more and more prosperous over time. But to create an environment where employees feel safe to explore. They feel safe to try new things. To become these more well-rounded diverse employees in that way. And so a surveillance focus is really going to minimize that. 


And I think the other piece of that kind of growth mindset culture puzzle there is psychological safety, right? So in that case, you safe to try new things, to do all that out, the fear of repercussions. And what’s a more explicit version of a fear of repercussions than having it quantified via surveillance, right? I mean, that’s as clear as it gets. So I think Nazir is absolutely right. And I think that’s ultimately the case that’s being made.


[00:31:59] DR: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been looking at the critical mindsets and skills that managers need to have to work in a hybrid workplace now. And really the change in how to manage has probably been the biggest change certainly at any speed in maybe 100 years. We’ve never had such a quick change in how people need to manage. And when we looked, and we’ve spent months on this, about six months on this, and we’re still learning and innovating. But we put together a solution called flex. And it basically says, “Look, you have to start with the growth mindset.” The very first place to start as a hybrid manager. You have to have growth mindset. Because if you’re trying to get this perfect, you’re going to fail immediately. You’ve got to just you know try things and continue to get better. You’ve got to be open to really new ideas because everything’s changing. And you’ve got to be willing to experiment and just value the progress that you’re making and then learn from each other a ton. 


So it’s such an important kind of place to start. The fun thing that we’ve learned about growth mindset is when you teach it well and anchor in the science, most people, like 90% roughly of people, catch when they have a fixed mindset and shift through a growth mindset every week, at least one to three times. And actually we found about 25% of people do it every day. That when you teach growth mindset well, about a quarter of people every day actually notice when they’re having a fixed mindset and shift it themselves. And about 90% of people do it at least one to three times a week. 


So really interesting data. So it is something you can learn. It’s a really important skill as a foundation for hybrid. And then there’s a bunch of other skills we’ve talked about in other sessions. But that’s a really, really big one. 


[00:33:26] YW: How do you actually measure performance in an outcome-oriented environment? 


[00:33:32] DR: Yeah, absolutely. You want to take that? 


[00:33:34] YW: Well, I was just going to say, I actually as a leader found it easier to do measurement in an outcome-focused environment, because you were clear about what the success was, what the win was. And then you could put actual metrics around that win. So I actually found that a focused environment, outcome oriented-focused environment gave me more latitude and more clarity in which to actually measure performance and to establish matrix. 


[00:34:02] DR: Because you’re not debating activity. Why did you or didn’t you get to that? You actually have got a clear target to work towards. So I think the more crisp those targets are, the better, the easier it is. I think there’s an interesting dynamic that’s important. So when the pandemic hit, we launched a solution called focus, that is still popular, still out there in many organizations. And it built on research we did almost 10 years ago helping, at the time, Nokia-Siemens networks support their 50,000 people to focus through a literal crisis. 


We launched a solution called focus, and it had a mantra that I still sign off almost every one of my calls with. It’s such a central thing. And it basically is to take care of yourself. Look after each other. And deliver what matters. Take care of yourself because you had to do that more than ever, especially if you’re a manager. You actually have to like self-care better than ever, because your stress response adds to your teams, right? So take care of yourself. Look after each other. Such an important thing. And then deliver what matters as opposed to like change the world this week. Like work out what’s really important and make sure you do that, maybe all the space you have because your brain’s exploding. Be essential, not exhaustive. So when we talk about showing people what great looks like, you’ve got to be relevant to the times and recognize that people are struggling. So take care of yourself. Look after each other. Deliver what matters. 


Actually, in the focus solution, we actually spend a week on take care of yourself and exactly the science how to do that best. A week on look after each other, a week on deliver what matters. But it literally has become a mantra that’s really, really powerful for this. So I think it’s important to weave that in to the thinking as well. We do work best when we trusted. There’re so many different studies kind of coming at that from many different angles, including the growth mindset research and education that kids who feel like they’re seen as successful actually do better if the teacher believes they’re successful. 


How do we get to an outcomes mindset? We’re going to be a little adaptive. Now this is the framework through which we think about any kind of change. So I’ll start with this. We always think about how do you make something a priority? What are the habits necessary to build and how do you build those in the right order, the right timing, et cetera? And then what systems you need to reinforce all that? So we always think in terms of priorities, habits and systems. But you don’t have to think in that way. But how do we get there? How do we get our organization to let go of surveillance mindset and focus more on outcomes? 


[00:36:27] RC: It was easier to get a new virtual team up and running than it was to transition an in-person team to a virtual team. That’s a really astute observation. In general, it’s harder to kind of override old habits with new ones than it is to just ingrain new habits, right? So I think the first thing is awareness of that, to realize that that’s the case. And then also, I think that is a perfect segue into the beauty of the PHS model, which is this which is to say that you really want alignment across the things that you want, the behaviors that you’re going to use to get there, and the systems that are going to support that. Because any sort of misalignment between those things and people with these kind of old, well ingrained habits are going to resort back to those habits, right? So people that have had the kind of in-person office habits going any sort of confusion regarding the transition to remote work may result in a reversion back to those old habits. 


[00:37:20] DR: Yeah, it’s so true. Wow when you meet a new person with an unusual name that you don’t know the phonemes, maybe they’re from a country you’ve not spent time with. We often like get their name wrong in our head. And once we’ve done that a couple of times and then they tell us how to pronounce it right, we keep going back to the way we first did it, right? So what happens is the brain actually builds new pathways really quickly. But then they stick. So it’s much easier to kind of develop habits with a new team. If you start like this, it’s much harder to change them as Ryan was saying. It’s a really salient thing if you kind of notice this. 


[00:37:54] YW: Yeah. I just wanted to offer up a practical kind of example of the point that Ryan already made. And I totally agree that it is easier to put in new habits than it is to take out old ones. But almost everybody went into a new habit in 2020, right? And I was head of HR for an organization at that time, and we did have to shift from this high touch environment where we’re all together to a remote environment. And exactly as you were describing, reflecting on it, what we did is first of all it was a priority because COVID made it a priority. And then in our habits, one of the things we looked at is our meeting cadence and how we were doing. And we put in new approaches. 


For example, we started meetings with a few minutes of chit chat time so we could recreate this idea of connecting with others. And then from a system standpoint, we even changed, again, the frequency of meetings. Using brain research, we said, “Hey, let’s give people the mornings to relax a little bit, and to think, and to reflect, or get the kids off to school, or whatever they have to do and starting our meetings later.” So we actually found that we were quickly able to pivot most people where a lot of people were able to do in 2020 by using this exact framework, thinking it’s a priority. It’s a new way of doing things. And let’s reinforce it.


[00:39:14] DR: That’s great. Thanks, Yvonne. I mean, the way we think about at NLI is we want to identify the critical habits of the heart of this and teach them one at a time with some positive social pressures, or in cohorts a little bit every week for a month. That’s how we think about sort of generically building habits. 


Definitely the leaders have to role model this. But I’m a big fan of the everyone-to-everyone model versus the top-down model. So even though we’ve got data showing that leaders role modeling is the most important thing, doing things just for the top leaders because they’re so important we think is not the answer. It’s actually more important we think that every single people manager learns a specific framework or skill or habit at the same time. So you really want everyone who manages people to learn something at once, versus just kind of getting the top leaders to role model. 


And we think that’s such an important insight. It’s an everyone-to-everyone model versus the top-down model in terms of kind of how you get there. So yeah, leaders role modeling really matters. But if you’ve got ten thousand employees, you’ve got a thousand leaders, not a hundred, or ten Lots and lots of leaders. Anyway, that’s an interesting thing.


[00:40:20] YW: The bigger challenge is for team members that don’t want to operate in a more autonomous space. And maybe that would be a great place for you and Ryan to speak to.


[00:40:29] DR: So team members who don’t want to be more autonomous. I mean, there’s going to be some of those. There’s going to be people high in certainty, right? So remember, with SCARF, people have a different SCARD framework in the way they’re built, that some people love certainty. They crave it. They love to take chaos and organize it. That’s what they literally rewarded by. Other people, they’d hate that. They like to create chaos, right? They like to invent and do other things. So we’re actually rewarded by different things. And I think it’s really helpful for managers to understand that. And SCARF gives you a sticky clear framework to kind of identify your own SCARF order and identify other people’s SCARF order as well. So you can think of it that way. 


I want to leave time for something else. I I’ll just say a lot of our work addresses what we’re talking about the connect solution, which actually our first solution goes a long way to helping managers actually know how to work in an outcomes-focused way. You might add some customized tools and some other things to that. But it’s super powerful for that. And that growth solution, the growth mindset is so central. And then flex, of course, really, really important in this time. But next week we’re actually going to dig into the science. It’s really the science and practice of keeping people connected. We’re actually going to give you some really practical tips and also share tips across the group. How do we keep people connected? Whether they’re new recruits, the on-boarding situation, or mid-career, or in-career, but what do we do to keep folks connected? That’s obviously connected to the burnout situation, the engagement situation, other things. But let’s assume platforms are here for a while, that we’re going to be at home for a while. And even after that, we’re going to be properly hybrid for a long time. How do we actually keep people connected in that time? 


So join us next week. If you can’t make the session, remember, you can also listen to the podcast afterwards. But Yvonne, thanks so much for joining us. Great to have you on the team. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Ryan, as well, great to work with you. Look forward to seeing how this data maps out. I’ll close off with take care of yourselves. Look after each other. And keep delivering what matters. Thanks, everyone. Bye-bye.




[00:42:31] SW: Your Brain at Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us make organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you listen to your podcast. Our producers are Matt Holidack, Daniel Kirschenblatt, Ted Bower, Shadé Olasimbo, and me, Shelby Wilburn. Original music is by Grant Zubritzki. And logo design is by Catch Wear. We’ll see you here next time. 



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