Learnings from Neuroscience to improve Performance Management

Posted on February 15, 2016 at 13:29 PM

By Debbie Hance, Head of Business Psychology, Head Light

I attended a really interesting lecture about 'navigating neuroscience' by Dr Vaughan Bell of UCL. And it got me thinking: how could we use some of the learnings from neuroscience to improve performance management?

One of the particularly entertaining trends Dr Vaughan Bell presented was ‘neuroessentialism’.  This is the misguided tendency for writers, advertisers or anyone presenting an argument or trying to sell something to use neuroscientific research to ‘trump’ all other kinds of research (“it’s more true if we can somehow relate it to brain studies”).  Or using neuroscience as 'biological proof' for a non-biological concept.

We certainly see this at work in our own space, with neuroleadership, neuromanagement, neuromarketing and neuroeconomics being terms that have crept into our consciousness.

Trend or no trend, I have to say that one piece of work to emerge from this area that I do find useful is David Rock’s SCARF framework.  It is a relatively simple way to understand some of the factors that influence the way we react, interact, behave and feel at work.

Dr David Rock actually coined the term ‘Neuroleadership’ and is the Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, being recognised as a leading authority on the leadership and the brain.  He developed the SCARF concept (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) as a way of tying together they key social domains that can provoke either a defensive mechanism in the brain (fight or flight, moving away) or a positive, reward response.

SCARF can be easily applied as a checklist to talent management practices, encouraging us to challenge ourselves on how to avoid or minimise defensive reactions and negative feelings towards processes – or to maximise engagement in them.

For instance, looking at some organisations’ recent shift away from forced rankings and numerical ratings in performance management, what might the SCARF framework tell us about the best way to shape and improve performance management?

We’ve started to list some of the things that might enable Performance Management to be viewed more positively using this SCARF framework.

You can read through this full listing in our article below.

What can Performance Management  learn from neuroscience?

For example, within the 'Status' category, organisations could:

    • Look to provide positive feedback and recognition to help people to understand what they contribute, how they’ve progressed, grown, developed or improved.  But be careful not to link this to a forced, once-a-year conversation.  Make sure it’s genuine and make sure it's about continuous performance management.
    • Provide up to date information on where people are on the achievement of goals and how they’re doing.
    • Help employees to understand strengths, what they’re really great at, what the company values in them.
    • Set goals which clarify a person's role and importance to the wider team.
    • Provide feedback from both colleagues and customers.

Vaughan Bell’s point in his presentation was that neuroscience may not tell us any more than other research fields or methodologies would, and that often there are more valid sources of information or evidence than brain studies.

In the case of looking to improve talent performance management we think we could have drawn this list up without the help of SCARF, but it’s a useful checklist and one with which to challenge our thinking when it comes to how we’re developing our software and services.

Do you have any useful research findings, models, concepts or frameworks (from any field or discipline) that you find really useful in shaping your talent management practices?  Let us know what you think.

Read the full article and then get in touch if you would like to talk more.

What can Performance Management  learn from neuroscience?

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