Review for In a nutshell

Book review: Neuroscience for organisational change

Hilary Scarlett
London: Kogan Page

Jonny Gifford, March 2016

Understanding both the nature of workplace behaviour, and what shapes it, is crucial for effective HR. So arguably, we should take particular notice of research from the behavioural sciences that sheds light on people management. And, as the CIPD's research programme over recent years testifies, there are a number of areas in HR that are ripe for the picking.

This book relates evidence from social neuroscience to the thorny problem of organisational change. How are our brains hardwired in ways that make change difficult? What are the psychological drivers, like fear of social rejection, that influence our behaviour so strongly? How can emotions be managed in a way that is more constructive? Why do we make bad decisions and what can we do to improve them? And what does brain science tell us about effective communication and the key principles of organisational change models?

The author, Hilary Scarlett, is a consultant specialised in applying neuroscience to people management and organisational development practice. In line with this, the book draws on a range of research insights, discussing in a helpful amount of depth what they mean for organisational change.

The research drawn upon does not only come from neuroscience – there is also a good amount of psychology blended in – though there is certainly enough neuroscience to justify the title. This includes an introductory section that outlines key biological facets of our brains and fundamental principles in how they function, such as evolutionary instincts on threat and reward, our need for brain efficiency and the mental shortcuts that result, and brain plasticity and our ability to learn and adapt.

There is also a healthy caveat early on, explaining that the field of neuroscience is still at an early stage of development, much of the research is conducted in laboratory environments rather than real-life work environments and, most importantly, there is a danger of 'overreaching' in drawing practical conclusions from the science. This makes the insights the book has to offer no less useful, but in an area that is often characterised by faddishness and a flimsy evidence base (a prime candidate being Neuro-Linguistic Programming) it is an important stance to make.

The book does not set out to be a detailed, comprehensive exposition of the relevant research. Rather, its strength lies in its application of behavioural science insights to practice. So students of neuroscience may find it basic, but those looking to understand how organisational change can be led in a psychologically enlightened or 'brain friendly' way should find this book rich and useful.

© Scarlett&Grey