So, it happened again this week. It’s likely happened to you, too — several times.
I was driving down a busy road, approaching an intersection. I glanced up and saw the light had turned yellow. My foot instinctively pushed a little harder against accelerator to make it through the light.
At the split second I started accelerating, I caught site of a police cruiser sitting on the median — facing my lane of traffic. But it was too late. I had committed to my plan of beating the light, and there was no turning back.
Of course, this action seems completely irrational. So, why does this happen to us? Why can we not make the logical choice to change, given readily available information?
Brain science offers an answer.
“Even if you haven’t actually started moving your foot, your brain has already initiated that plan,” says Susan Courtney of Johns Hopkins University.
In other words, as one area of your brain registers the police cruiser, other parts of your brain have already put your plan into irrevocable action.
That’s one mystery solved — you now know why you stomp on the gas, despite the risk of a traffic ticket.
Let’s move this into the workplace. Despite your best efforts to shift your company’s culture, similar micro-second decisions may be preventing employees from changing their behavior. After all, culture change requires behavior change. And our behaviors become subconscious over time, matching norms.
So how do we prevent the metaphorical “stomping on the gas” when it comes to culture?
The first step is to help employees understand the reasons behind the needed change — candidly and simply. This helps to build a foundation of trust and belief in the change.
Next, they need to be given an opportunity to practice the new behavior so that muscle memory is created, replacing the previous knee-jerk reaction. This also creates ownership over time, which can help to trigger a tipping point with those around them.
Human beings have enormous capacity for change when the right environment is created for it.
Now, if only I could stop my foot from moving to the accelerator at a yellow light. (In case you were wondering, I made it through without a ticket — this time.)
Thanks for being involved today.