A Crisis Impacts Organisational Culture - Why ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ Is Paramount!

Silvia Damiano
9 September 2021
3 min read

As the world is still reeling from the Coronavirus, it has become clear that a crisis affects organisational culture. Workplaces around the world have changed drastically in the past 18 months or so. What have we learned? One thing that is certain, being ‘brain-friendly’ is more important than ever.

What Is ‘Brain-Friendly’ And Why Does It Matter?

It is easy for words to become catchy and cliche, but when we say ‘brain-friendly’ we mean understanding the relationship between our biological system and our behaviours.

We must also be willing to use this new knowledge to improve how we interact with others and how we handle busy, complex and stressful environments.1 We need employees with their bodies and brains performing at their best so we can ensure that ideas and intuition have a platform to leap from, instead of losing our competitive edge.

‘Brain-friendly’ organisations were needed before the pandemic, and now they are needed even more urgently. We must raise the bar of organisational effectiveness, innovation and productivity. Ideas are the new currency, and we need leaders who are ready to embrace change who can manage and mitigate rapidly evolving situations. 

Imagine two very different companies--one with explicit cultural norms for the workplace and another with skewed norms that resulted in inconsistency and less flexibility. Which of these imaginary companies would have likely handled the pandemic most effectively? 

When you look at your own organisational culture, it is vital to figure out what is and isn’t working and then react appropriately. The first company we described above with clear norms in place would probably have been able to weather the storm of Covid most effectively because employees would already be working in solid teams with agile management. Moving to virtual or remote working would not have been too disruptive. 

Crisis Management And The Ability To React 

In a research study published before the current crisis, researchers asked why some organisations are better at handling a crisis than others. According to the authors of this study, people were not that interested in research about how organisational culture can affect that organisation’s ability to react during a time of crisis or strife (which is ironic in hindsight). 

The authors proposed three types of organisations: fully adapting, semi-adapting and non-adapting. Unsurprisingly, they found that non-adaptive organisations were the least likely to handle a crisis. When strong managers were present, they were intuitively able to understand what was happening and promptly react.2

Even before the pandemic, it was understood that automation and new technologies were here to stay. We have been forced to change what a ‘normal’ workplace is in response to Covid while still adjusting to the idea that robots will eventually replace many menial and even some not so menial tasks. 

Juan Carlos Cubeiro, co-author of ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership: The 9 Habits of a Future-Fit Mind’, recently described a conversation with Dr Carl Frey, a specialist in automation and employment. Dr Frey pointed out four aspects of work that humans can do but machines cannot.

One of these is the resolution of complex problems or being able to sense what is coming. Machines cannot be intuitive because they do not have consciousness or sub-consciousness.3 But humans, we can make decisions following our gut or intuition, and these feelings can be the difference between surviving, thriving or failing.

At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself. 
Alan Alda

Intuitiveness Is Only One Part Of Being ‘Brain-Friendly’

When we can trust our instincts, we can make choices quickly when we must. This doesn’t mean we should always throw caution to the wind; instead, we should rely on our intuition as another piece of the puzzle when making decisions. When organisational culture is disrupted, employees may not feel confident about expectations or even goals of the company. They may lose the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, and with uncertainty comes an increased chance of failure. 

Most leaders agree that failure is more likely without a compelling strategy and clear cultural norms. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, many leaders of mature companies and businesses do not have the necessary mindset to survive in the current times.4

The more predictable and less volatile past is likely gone for good, and now we need leaders who are ready to operate with less information, more volatility and more complications. We need leaders who are ‘brain-friendly’ to face the reality of business in the post-Covid world.

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Citations:
  1. Hills M. Key Insights From An i4 Practitioner For Creating A Brain-Friendly Culture, https://blog.aboutmybrain.com/key-insights-from-an-i4-practitioner-for-creating-a-brain-friendly-culture (accessed 4 June 2019).
  2. Deverell E, Olsson E-K. Organizational culture effects on strategy and adaptability in crisis management. Risk Manage: Int J 2010; 12: 116–134.
  3. Cubeiro JC. The i4 Neuroleader Model and the CIES Islands, https://blog.aboutmybrain.com/the-i4-neuroleader-model-and-the-cies-islands (accessed 4 September 2021).
  4. McGrath RG, MacMillan IC. How to Rethink Your Business During Uncertainty, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-to-rethink-your-business-during-uncertainty/ (accessed 4 September 2021).

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Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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