The Neuroscience of Strategy

Why do we need a strategy? Seems like a strange question but I’ve had it come up in conversations with leaders, especially in companies that have been successful without a written/published strategy. (What I often find is that they really do have a strategy in mind and they, as leaders, have been doing the right things to execute the strategy.)

There are plenty examples of well-defined and delineated strategies making a difference in an organization’s success. What we now know is that there is neurological foundation for the benefits of a sound strategy – creating and deploying strategy matches how the human brain operates.

One of the leading researchers in the field of Neuroscience of Leadership is David Rock. He has created a model that identifies five organization factors that have a significant effect on human reactions, linked to new research on how our brains operate. He calls it the SCARF model.

Status: the perception of being considered better or worse than others

Certainty: the predictability of future events

Autonomy: the level of control people feel over their lives

Relatedness: the experience of sharing goals with others

Fairness: the sense of being respected and treated equitably, especially compared with others

When an organization’s perceived level on any of the five SCARF factors is low, then employees feel threatened. Its a reaction that occurs deep in our brains – a more nuanced version of the fight or flight syndrome. The feeling of threat is often reflected in lower engagement and productivity, creating a number of leadership implications. One implication is the role strategy plays in organization success.

So why do you need a strategy? The SCARF model posits that, without a well thought-out and communicated strategy, employees will feel threated by a lack of relatedness, a lack of certainty and/or a lack of autonomy. Even if its not expressed, the feeling is there.   A strategy that clearly establishes the organization’s direction and intent, cascades goals and objectives to all levels and establishes a shared vision will help drive engagement and productivity.

Like to learn more about building a sound strategy? Click here to check out my whitepaper on Crafting the Best Strategy Ever.

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