I Rewired My Employee’s Brain and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next…

Paul Hebert Change Management, Employee Coaching, Employee Communications, Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, Paul Hebert

It is all the rage to say that engagement is management’s fault. And that is because in most cases it is the truth. And it’s their boss’s fault. And their boss’s boss’s fault. There is no end to the ladder of blame. At the core of this problem is we continue to manage employees like we did when Don Draper was the master of the universe.

Go ahead – google management and you get the Wikipedia definition:


Management in business and organizations is the function that coordinates the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization to accomplish the goal.

Bold stuff is mine.

Read that again. At no point in that definition does it talk about the role managers have in helping their employees manage their human condition. And managing the human condition, my friends, is what I believe the future holds for managers. Managing human beings with all their variations and their irrationality.

Look back at that definition of management – and if you squint just a little, that same definition could and should be used to define what an employee does each day. I submit that in today’s world 90% of the rank and file employee – those that don’t have staffs reporting to them – ALSO – plan, organize, lead, direct and control things to achieve company objectives. There is very little difference between managers and the “normal” folks doing their jobs.

Managers = Psychologists

I’ve gone on record before, and I’ll do it again now – managers need to learn about how the human brain works and become the human being maintenance person. Like the mechanic during the industrial age who was responsible for taking care of the stamping presses and other machines of mass production (the machines that added the value to the company), managers now own the maintenance of the new value creating machines – human beings. And with that responsibility comes a whole new instruction manual.

But most managers are woefully unprepared to manage human beings and their infinite variability.

Case In Point – Humans Are Hard Wired to Be Negative

I can’t discuss every single way a manager needs to update their knowledge to handle humans, but I can point you to one very interesting thing managers could learn that could have profound impact on employee engagement levels should a company take my advice here and train their managers appropriately.

And we ALL want better employee engagement, don’t we?

So here’s what I would teach my managers their first day on the job…

Human beings are wired to look for bad news. We are always looking for negatives that could affect our existence. From a survival standpoint, it’s more important to focus on things that kill us than things that make us feel good. This is called negativity bias, and it is great for survival of the species – not so good for feeling good about work and your place in the company. This is why we never remember the 20 great things our managers say in our reviews and piss and moan about the ONE thing we didn’t do so well in February.

The good news is that we can actively manage how our brain works. Specifically, when we understand that we have this negativity bias, we can avoid it by focusing on the good things that happen to us. Knowing we tend to overemphasize the negative allows us to process that one negative event – allow it to be absorbed – and give us the freedom to then focus on the great things that happened at work that same day.

Once we recognize the good stuff, we then can focus on it and give it more time in our conscious – more importance. All the while reducing the impact of the negative events.

Impact On Engagement

If I’m a good manager and I teach my team how to avoid the human tendency to focus on the negative, I will have a now have a team that can more fully experience the good stuff happening in the organization, and in turn manifest itself in better engagement and satisfaction scores.

The same surveys we spend so much time obsessing over (particularly the negative stuff right?).

For 2015 – make it a focus of your “management” routine to teach people how our brain processes negative and positive information and then watch as overall employee experience gets better and better.