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Introducing STEAR: A Model for Brain-Friendly Change

This week,  we present the STEAR model, a framework that challenges the disconnect between what science shows and what business does.

Albert Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

The history of the world is littered with problems that researchers later cracked wide open using techniques their ancestors could hardly imagine.

It is through this lens that we like to challenge the disconnect between what science shows and what business does. If you haven’t noticed, the world is in the midst of a ‘neuro-revolution’ driven by new technologies and new disciplines in science that are uncovering fresh insights about human nature and what drives behaviour. Modern technology is supporting scientists to look at the brain in action, and we are gaining a better understanding of how our emotions, motivations, decision-making, and memory processes operate in the brain.

It is with this knowledge that we are seeing the great divide in how we design and structure our businesses and how we lead and develop our people. In a complex and ever changing world, we need to find new ways of working — ways that leverage the new knowledge we are gaining about our neurobiology.

We know traditional ways of working just don’t cut it in the current global business environment. If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t see evidence of a leadership, engagement, and culture crisis at work. Yet many businesses still make decisions, communicate internally and externally, employ, recruit, and manage using the same outdated structures that were designed for the industrial age.

The challenge is how to break down organisational frameworks and ways of operating that have been in place for decades. Why do we resist change and continue to do what we have always done, even though we know it isn’t working and that we aren’t getting the results we need to remain competitive and innovative?

The application of neuroscience to build better organisations is still in its infancy. Organisational neuroscience (ON) is identified by Angela Passarelli (2015) as “an emerging research domain within the field of management that integrates organisational behaviour with neuroscience”. This integration can lead to an organisational structure and new practices that work with our neurobiology — in other words, ways that are ‘brain-friendly’. Perhaps, first of all, it’s worth exploring what we mean by the term ‘brain-friendly’? In her book The Brain-Friendly Workplace, Erika Garms defines it in this way:

Brain-friendly strategies are strategies that call upon us to use our brains in the ways they naturally function. Our brains have a myriad of processes and functions that occur in a certain way, in a particular sequence, and triggered by specific events. Because we know this, we can manipulate our working environment — to some degree — to be as conducive to brain function as possible. Often organisations and teams will take the path of least resistance, but this is not naturally brain-friendly. The reason this occurs is because this takes the least amount energy.

Armed with the knowledge we are gaining about our neurobiology, how then do we build brain-friendly organisations and teams? How do we tap into this knowledge to inform and reconstruct organisational frameworks that support organisational success? What do we need to do differently in learning, leading, and collaborating that facilitate organisational resilience and change agility to support the development of brain-friendly organisations?

At NeuroCapability, through the application of our revolutionary STEAR model, we take what we are learning from science and apply it to daily business practices in order to build psychological safety and high performing teams and organisations.

The STEAR framework transforms the way we operate, and it starts with our brain biology.

We’ve discovered that it is through brain biology that businesses can more effectively develop the ability to build human capital value, execute strategy, and facilitate change that sticks.

The STEAR model looks at five key interdependent domains that we view as levers in the business. The model can be used as a diagnostic tool for identifying the current ‘pain points’ in a business. At the same time, it can be applied as a solutions framework for business decision makers.

The STEAR model domains:

  • Strategy
  • Talent
  • Engagement
  • Agility
  • Roadmap

In our STEAR workshops, we take leaders and business decision makers through the STEAR model step-by-step, which helps to make the science tangible and supports them to experience how they can drive a mindset change both in themselves and in their organisations.

So how do we apply this model? We first ask a series of questions within each domain. Participants explore where their unique pain points exist in a business. We ask them to determine their highest and lowest scoring domains and to consider why this is the case. For example, we begin by asking:

When considering strategy, do you and your people know why you do what you do?

Regarding talent, we underscore that no two brains are alike. Do you have the right people doing the right thing? Have you got the skills and knowledge to align you and your people to strategy?

Engagement is not a measure, it is an outcome. How present, innovative, and connected are you and your people? Are your people in a consistent state of high engagement?

Change is the new norm, and in order to change, you must be agile. How resilient, adaptable and flexible are you or your people?

Building an effective roadmap is about performance enhancement as opposed to performance management. Do you and your people know what they have to do every day to execute strategy and the decisions you make?

In the STEAR workshops, participants work through a series of approaches to assess their current state of play across the organisation — in specific teams or for themselves as a leader. Then, using a design thinking approach, the model identifies potential solutions and intentions to test and measure in order to start the journey of building a more brain-friendly approach.

We like to think of the STEAR model as a ‘brain guidance system’ for leaders, teams and organisations. We approach each of the domains in ways that work with how the brain functions, rather than fighting against our biology.

The domains function together to create a system greater than each of the parts. For example, you can have the best strategy in the world, but without talented people to see it enacted, it’s meaningless. Of course, unless your talented people are engaged, their skills and talents will be wasted. And unless you have processes and procedures that are flexible, your business won’t have the agility required to enact the roadmap you have in place to execute your vision. Each of the STEAR domains offers something that amplifies each of the others. So you aren’t just making isolated improvements but strengthening your organisation as a whole.

With the first introduction, you will immediately understand how you can use the STEAR model to identify issues unique to your organisation and to translate the disconnect between what science is telling us and what your business is doing. Even more, because the STEAR model is science-based, you’ll be equipped with a powerful tool to become the scientist of your own experience.

Watch our latest video on ‘making changing stick’


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