Neuroscientists Have The Secret To Fixing Your Organizational Values

by Dora Wang on Jan 22, 2015 11:00:00 AM

How To Instill Organizational Values Based On NeuroscienceYour organizational values may be driven by your business, but the only way to make them work is by getting inside people’s heads. Your employees are the ones who bring the values to life, after all. If they’re not on board, those values are nothing more than words on paper.

Looking At The Brain

Neuroscience can tell us how people’s minds work. Now, most of us don’t want to dig into a pile of scientific research, but luckily we can just see what the experts can tell us. Stanford University’s Jamil Zaki conducted research on how people’s values relate to being part of a group, and here are some of the most interesting ideas for company leaders.

Social connection: It’s important to us that our values are shared by the rest of our social group. In Zaki’s research, people who were told that their opinions were the same as the rest of the group experienced a reward response in their brains. Another experiment showed that money, which our brains usually see as a reward, caused less of a reward response if it would hurt a participant’s social connections.

Shifting values: Zaki also found that if a person learned that their value judgments were different from their peers, they shifted their opinions closer to the group’s. So social connections can actually change a person’s values.

Purpose: Another experiment showed that people change their values based on the framing of the activity. People find different values rewarding based on the values that are important in the context.

Get Scientific In Your Methods

Knowing how people’s brains work gives us great guidance about how to get employees to buy into the organizational values. A company is a social group, so people will be motivated by their connections to their coworkers. Here are some simple ways to leverage that motivation:

  • Put conscious effort into building a group of employees who support the values, so they can provide that social connection our brains want. Hire and fire based on your values.
  • Practice recognition of employees who exemplify your values. Your employees will be able to see concrete examples of which behaviors the group supports. It will motivate them to get on board with the shared values.
  • Make sure your company leaders know how to frame your organization and mission for their employees. A company that presents itself as an innovator will encourage people to value creativity and risk taking. On the other hand, a company that prides itself on being a traditional institution encourages employees to value caution and responsibility.

The people in your company won’t be motivated to adopt the organizational values just because they’re listed in the employee handbook, or even if you entice them with bonuses or promotions. The only way to get your employees to truly embrace the values is by giving them the social connection of a company-wide culture that shares those values.




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This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

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