The Neuroscience of Leadership with Don Rheem

The Neuroscience of Leadership with Don Rheem

Don RheemDon Rheem is an expert on workplace culture. The CEO and founder of E3 Solutions, Don has traveled the globe to speak to business leaders about employee engagement and is one of the most popular speakers in Vistage International, the world’s largest organization for CEOs. He is also the author of Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.

In this episode, Don breaks down what it takes to create a workplace environment that allows employees to do well and stay engaged. Listen in to learn the true root cause of employee disengagement, how evolutionary psychology impacts our perception of a workplace, and what managers can do to increase engagement among their employees.

Learn how to increase employee engagement and create a workplace environment that allows employees to thrive with @DonRheem, author of THRIVE BY DESIGN. #behavior #leadership #performance Click To Tweet

If you enjoy the show, please drop by iTunes and leave a review while you are feeling the love! Reviews help others discover this podcast and I greatly appreciate them!

Listen in:

On Today’s Episode We’ll Learn:

  • Why it’s more important than ever for managers to create an environment that makes employees want to come to work.
  • What leads to disengagement in the workplace.
  • Why we shouldn’t blame employees for being disengaged.
  • The important distinction between employee engagement and employee satisfaction.
  • Why money isn’t a good motivator.
  • The difference between validation and recognition—and how often each should happen.
  • How much of employee recognition is typically negative.
  • The number of positives it takes to neutralize one negative in the brain.
  • Four things that feedback conversations need to cover.
  • What managers can do to increase employee engagement.

Key Resources for Don Rheem:

Share the Love:

If you like The Brainfluence Podcast

  • Never miss an episode by subscribing via iTunes, Stitcher or by RSS
  • Help improve the show by leaving a Rating & Review in iTunes (Here’s How)
  • Join the discussion for this episode in the comments section below

Full Episode Transcript:

Get Your Full Episode Transcript Here

Welcome to Brainfluence Podcast with Roger Dooley. Author, speaker, and educator on neural marketing and the psychology of persuasion. Every week we talk with thought leaders that will help you improve your influence with factual evidence and concrete research. Introducing your host, Roger Dooley.

Roger Dooley:     Welcome to the Brainfluence Podcast. I’m Roger Dooley. Today’s guest is Don Rheem, the CEO and founder of E3 solutions. His background is a bit different than some of our guests. Don is a former science advisor to Congress and the White House correspondent, and he’s the author of the book Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures. Don, welcome to the show.

Don Rheem:       Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here, Roger. Thank you for having me.

Roger Dooley:     So, Don, how did he get from the White House to being an expert on workplace culture?

Don Rheem:       Well, that’s a good question. I was on Capitol Hill. I was in a technical consultant to the house science and technology committee and I got asked to start writing about science and so I left that position on the committee and I became a reporter covering science and technology in the environment. And then eventually, they asked me to cover politics, which I did during a presidential campaign. One of the ways, at least it used to work in print is if your candidate that you’re assigned to candidates in the primary, but if your candidate gets the office, then you follow them to the office because you have all the relationships. And I was covering the candidate that won and so off I went to the White House. It was a bit of a stretch, but it was also a lot of fun.

Roger Dooley:     Yeah, no doubt. I’m surprised. I’m guessing that although that’s not the most lucrative career that you could choose, it had to be really exciting and different, at least at times, probably long periods of boredom, but certainly those exciting moments, huh?

Don Rheem:       Well, I’ll tell you that the White House press room was nothing then like it is now. I’m grateful I’m not in the environment now. It just seems so cutthroat and adversarial and it was much more congenial back in the day. So I had a good time with that for sure.

Roger Dooley:     Great. Well, switching over to the topic of your book done. Probably everybody listening would agree that employee engagement is really, really important. It leads to more loyalty, higher productivity, better service to customers for those folks that are customer facing. Is it fair to say that the premise that underlies your book is that humans have evolved to be social creatures and that our brains find certain kinds of interactions rewarding? If those interactions aren’t there in a workplace or they’re not adequate, people will be unhappy, disengaged, and probably more inclined to leave.

Don Rheem:       Yes. So in the field of social neuroscience, especially that there’s just an overwhelming consensus that homo sapiens are social species. Now, what some people think, “Oh, that means we’re meant to just hang out together and chat and be social”, the normal way we think about. But the way it actually works in the brain is, the default position of the brain is to assume it has safe and secure others, what social neuroscientists call reliable social resources, and the brain assumes that it has those. And when it doesn’t, we will never operate at our full capacity. In other words, we’re designed to work in groups, which means that when we’re forced to work in isolation, will never perform at our best. And by isolation, I mean you could be in a room full of people and be isolated, if those are not reliable. So again, social neuroscience would call reliable social resources. What a therapist might call a safe and secure connection. You’re just not going to be able to operate at your best. It’s just the way the brain has evolved.

Roger Dooley:     I guess in some ways if you look at it from an evolutionary psychology standpoint, if you’re with your tribe, then you feel safe and you can focus on other things where if you are in an environment that is not your tribe that’s maybe more hostile or at least, or perhaps you’re just alone, then you’ve got to be devoting resources to watching your back and presumably taking care of that. Nothing untoward happens to you.

Don Rheem:       You hit the nail on the head. First, think of this, if for anybody that’s been to East Africa, the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti out on that open Savannah, if you were out there by yourself, your chances of survival were diminimous, they were slim, you probably wouldn’t survive. But if you were out there in a group, your chances of survival went way up, I mean, all you had to do is out run on one person, then you could probably make it through another day. But for the brain to have been in that environment for however long you think we’ve been here, either hundreds of thousands of years or whenever, but the point is that the brain knows that if it’s in a group, it’s chances of survival go way, way up. So this just leads to a much deeper understanding of the brain and why we do what we do.

And some of the early discoveries about the brain were the brain mapping, and there’s been a revised brain map that came out I think early last year, very exciting about where things happen in the brain. But what I’m more interested in is why things happen. Why do people do what they do and especially when they’re at work? And these are insights we now have. So that’s why I called the book Thrive by Design. That is we now know the conditions that if you create them in the workplace, people will thrive. Not cognitively because they saw or heard a motivational talk or a poster, but neurologically because of our wiring, it’s just a natural outpouring of effort, what we call discretionary effort that happens in that environment.

Roger Dooley:     Well, so if you’re a leader trying to build that kind of conducive environment, where do you start at?

Don Rheem:       Well, when we look at the data, the research, especially in the research around adult attachment, which is so compelling, the part of the brain that’s in charge, or at least it has controlled precedents, the limbic system, the emotional processing centers of the brain, the heartbeat of fight, flight or freeze. This part of the brain seems to preference above almost everything else. Consistency and predictability, even above positivity. That is the brain wants to be in a consistent and predictable environment. One neuroscientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Dr. James Cone talks about how the limbic system in effect is asking two questions all day long. What’s next? And this issue of what’s next is really important. So for a leader, if you have a mercurial manager or mercurial managers on your staff that is they’re friendly and nice, affirming in one moment, the next moment, they’re angry and punitive and hierarchical.

That’s crazy making for the brain. And this goes back to something that you said in a previous question, Roger, you talked about use of resources. And this is what I talk about in chapter two in the book. That if the limbic system triggers threat, for example, lack of consistency, lack of predictability, it starts hijacking metabolic resources from the rest of the brain to cope with that and to deal with it and to prepare for our response. And what that means is that IQ drops. What happens for employees in this kind of environments? They lose peripheral vision, they lose the capacity to reach out and to help others, they become less self aware, they become less aware of other’s needs around them, they tend to restrict their options, that is they become less innovative, less creative, so there’s a huge cost to having metabolic resources diverted because of relatively regular threats being triggered in the workplace. And so this is where we have to start making changes and not just because of that, but also because these new generations now moving into the workplace, the millennials and the Gen Z, they’re not going to put up with the same situations that the Xers and Boomers did in the workplace.

Roger Dooley:     On my upcoming book, Friction, it’s not about a workplace culture per se, I talk a little bit about Jack Welch and his workout program and how he eliminated bureaucracy and I want to get into some of those issues like red tape and how people are able to do stuff, are not able to do stuff, what do you call capability. The remarks you just made us reminded me of was his habit of practice of differentiating employees by category where you had a few top performers, then sort of a a big bunch of middle performers who are doing a good job, and then a small group of poor performers who were basically targeted for separation, and managers were obligated to put people into all of those buckets. So there was, actually in more or less specified ratio so you couldn’t have all high performers in your group, you would have to have a proportional number of people who were targeted for separation so they can be replaced by presumably people who might be high performers.

This has kind of been abandoned, G abandoned a while back and a bunch of big companies have done so. But I just saw the other day that apparently kind of similar techniques are still being used in Silicon Valley, that managers are forced to categorize their people and some are put into categories that you don’t want to be in because you’re probably not going to advance or you might be on your way out the door. And as you were talking, Don, it occurs to me that that kind of system really sort of takes you out of the friendly village mode, if you will, and suddenly everybody that’s around you is your competition. I’m curious if you worked with companies that use those techniques?

Don Rheem:       Yeah, they’re horrendously ineffective techniques and they’re illogical and let me explain why. So we measure employee engagement in our client companies, and we do put employees into four different categories. The most disengaged we call the actively disengaged, typically five to 15% of employees are in that category. Then we have the somewhat disengaged, that’s usually the largest group, anywhere from 35 to 50% of employees fit in there. We have the engaged, 25 to 30% of employees typically in the first year. And then we have the actively engaged, the so called A players also between five and 15%. So here’s the scenario Roger. Let’s say you have 200 employees in your company and you do an engagement survey and you discover that you have 25 of them are actively disengaged, the so called low performers D players. And you might think, and that would make sense, we need to get rid of those folks.

And in one sense you do because they pull everyone else down. There’s no question about that. But when we measure engagement, we do it by managing. So we can break the data down by managing what you discover and I just did a debrief of a company this morning in Chicago and same company, same culture, same pay scale, some work groups, their employees were 100% engaged, other work groups, the employees were 100% disengaged. And what’s the only difference between those two sets of work groups? It’s the manager. And so what we now know is that the majority of disengagement is directly attributable to the quality of the leader of the group. So you have these 25 that are actively disengaged, but then you discover that 18 of them report to four managers. If you go in and fire those 18 employees, what will you have next year when you measure again? You’ll have more disengaged because it’s not the employees.

This is an old mindset where for two and a half centuries, business has blamed employees for underperformance, when in fact, the majority of the time that behavior is directly attributable to the conditions that they’re working in. Gallup has discovered the same thing in a different, but Gallup estimates that about 70% of the variants and how engaged someone is when they come to work is directly attributable to the manager. So we have got to get out of this mode of blaming employees for their behavior when their behavior, you need to approach it in a systems approach. They’re in a system. And I was trained even though my family is an industrial family, as some of your listeners might have rain water heaters or heaters and air conditioners. I was the black sheep in the ream family. I didn’t get a business degree. I’m trained as a biologist and ecologist, and I see companies as social ecosystems because they are, and there’s no question that these D players are malignancies with inside the culture, but we’ve got to stop blaming them when in fact what they’re doing makes perfect sense when you understand the environment they’re working in.

Roger Dooley:     Yeah, I’m sure in a few cases you actually have a performance issue that is related to skill set or something that they simply don’t have the skills to do the job and getting them those skills would not be a matter of sending them to a simple training class or something. But yeah, I’m not sure how long ago, a year or two ago we had on an author who was a business turnaround expert and he actually bought business. [Added: Bob Bethel.] I’ll put a link in the show notes to that podcast. But he bought businesses typically for almost nothing. He pay a dollar for the business, pay the bank a dollar for the business because the bank was in danger of basically losing the full value of its loans and he would do his best to make the bank whole.

And he turned around 75 plus businesses that way. And one of the things that really surprised me, in fact, it was without a doubt the most surprising thing was that when he came in to turn around a company, I think that probably many new managers in that situation, their first move is to replace a bunch of the people to bring in better people because that’s why the business is failing because it’s got too many people or the wrong people or something. But he said he had never had a mass layoff, rarely had to fire anybody, and instead he changed the environment, changed the expectations for those people and created a better more supportive workplace and they pretty much ran with the ball. Once he showed what needed to be done, why the company was in trouble, what can be done to fix that, the employees were motivated to fix it. So I think that that’s really goes hand in hand with what you’re saying Don and it probably more than nine times out of 10 the problem is not the person rather it’s something about the environment or the way they’re being managed or what they’re told to do and so on.

Don Rheem:       Yeah. It’s a different mindset. Most managers and management theory was developed immense labor abundance, which we’ve had primarily since the beginning of the industrial revolution. There have been more people than there were jobs. And in that kind of environment, if someone didn’t work or work out, it didn’t seem to fit in, well, you just fired them and then hired until you got someone that would make it work. That is a very lazy and unintelligent way to do it and you can’t do it that way anymore because we have the lowest unemployment rates since the Vietnam War. The old mindset was all these employees out there, it’s a privilege that they’re working for us. There are so lucky. Now, the mindset needs to shift. And if those employees are still showing up every day, we’re privileged to have them. Employees have never had more choice than they have today.

And quite literally in many ways for the first time in our economic history, managers are going to have to learn how to create the conditions where people look forward to coming to work. And I’ll tell you in about two to three years, they’re going to love coming to work or they’re going to be looking for another place where they do. And this is something that the millennials are already doing. But the last time I looked at the statistics of the US Department of Labor, the average tenure of a millennial was two and a half years. They don’t frame work the same way that the Gen X and Boomers did. When I grew up, you had a job, it was to get money. An old group, when I grew up called the Blue Jays, they had a song was called living for the weekend. And that’s what we did. We worked Monday through Friday to earn the money to do what we really enjoy doing on the weekends.

But these new generations, millennials and Gen Z, they want to like what they’re doing Monday through Friday. And that’s not the way most leadership structures and the most managers were raised, if you will, and they need new skills to do it better.

Roger Dooley:     I’m guessing that in some cases you get pushback when you tell a manager that his or her job is not to tell the people what to do, but actually to understand their needs to a more or less cater to them, and when they’re used to being very top down and if you have somebody who’s not getting it done, hey that’s their problem and I’ll replace them if I have to. Do you run into that situation a lot with folks who still have the old mindset?

Don Rheem:       Oh yeah. We have a one day workshop we give around the country. It’s an employee engagement bootcamp for managers and I always have a manager that comes up around the lunch break and says, “Don, this is really interesting. I’m loving this, but help me understand. So I’m paying my people to do a good job and you want me to thank them as well?” And my answer is of course, “Yes because they’re not apps, they’re people and every human being on the planet wakes up in search of validation.” Am I seen? Am I noticed? Do they know I’m here? Do they know what I’m doing? And these are some of the things that managers need to do. In our survey, we also have open-ended questions at the end and one of the ones that is just sad is when when the employee says, “I walk down the hallway, I pass my manager two or three times a day and they never say hello or anything to me, why am I so invisible?” Or another line I saw recently in a debrief I did last week for a company, the employees said, “I did this job 99 times perfectly. The one time I made a mistake was the only time my manager showed up and it was to berate me”, and then their next sentence was, “Where was my manager the 99 times I did it right?”

And this is just an issue of fairness and equity. We believe this is anecdotal, not scientific. The 80% of the recognition that employees get is negative, and that’s just not a way to inspire workers to want to come to work and do their best.

Roger Dooley:     Yeah, absolutely. I’m sure if he asks that manager, they’ll say, “Why would I go see him if they were doing their job? That’s what they’re getting paid to do.” But obviously that doesn’t work. And I know we’ve, Paul Zak on the guest to wrote trust factor, which is also about corporate culture IN high performing companies. He has eight points make for a high performing workplace. And weirdly they spell oxytocin, which is a specialty that was a bit of a forced fit. Maybe it’s a get that acronym, but the very first one was ovation, which is exactly what you’re talking about. And it’s recognition. It’s recognizing people for their accomplishments, for doing a good job and not just, as you say, getting on them when they’re doing something that’s wrong or when they screw up. So it seems like such a simple thing and I think that even sort of every management, one seminar says that you should recognize employees when they do a good job. Be sure that the only time you’re not talking to them is when they screw up, but it seems like that’s really difficult for managers to do. Why is that do you think?

Don Rheem:       Well, I think one reason is because managers are busier today than they have ever been. The job is more complex than it has ever been and time pressures are very, very high. And some just say, “I can’t do this and do all these metrics and enter all this data and all these other thing that the companies want me to do.” But this is what we’ve found. One of the things that we do when we go into a company is I quickly can make an assessment. Is this a relational culture or is this a transactional culture? And the transactional cultures are always struggling and the relational cultures are thriving. The transactional cultures are ones that are run typically by a leader who wants lots of data, utilization rates, what’s everybody’s utilization rate and all of these numbers and everyone’s focused on them. But no one looks forward to going to work in a place like that unless you’re a statistician or psychometrician.

So how do we combine metrics, which I believe in very strongly, and that’s why we measure engagement. Because you can’t manage what you don’t measure, but we want to make sure we’re measuring for the right thing. And let me give an example. You talked about catering to employees earlier. There is a big movement today in the leadership field about making employees happy and satisfied. And I understand that, but it’s not something that I would advocate as an overt policy. And here’s what I mean by that. So we have our employee engagement survey. It doesn’t ask a single question of an employee about how satisfied they are with this, that, or the other. Most of the engagement instruments that are out there today and quite popular are actually employee satisfaction surveys.

And there’s a huge difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement. Satisfaction is an attitude. Engagement is a behavior. And I think it’s a fool’s errand to ask employees to self assess how happy they are in the moment. They may be very happy when they took the survey, be satisfied, but one negative thing that happens to them the next day and they’re dissatisfied. So just state it more succinctly. And attitude is the outcome of an emotional experience. Employee engagement is the emotional experience. So of course I want employees to be happy and satisfied, but it’s an outcome of being engaged. Some companies are stuck in this perk inflation, they’re just trying to throw all of these things in gimmick stuff out to get employees to be happy. But today’s perk is tomorrow’s entitlement, and it just isn’t a long term solution. And this is why, Roger, two and a half decades of leadership books and there’s more than a thousand of them in print today. We haven’t moved the needle on how engaged employees are when they get to work and this cognitive approach just isn’t working and although it’s written about in a thousand different ways, what I believe we should be doing is focusing more on empirically validated research that helps us, guides us into creating the conditions where we know people will thrive.

Roger Dooley:     Yeah, I think you’d make a good point out about perks becoming entitlements, just sort of part of the wallpaper. I’ve worked at various companies up through my career and I recall one at Christmas time gave out at Turkey or ham to each employee and then at some point, they decided, okay, this is perhaps a little too paternalistic or something and decided not to do that and everybody was in an uproar. The union filed a grievance about the process and whatnot. Even something minor like that suddenly taking that away turned the employees against the company. So I think that’s a risk. Whenever you do something nice, you have to be prepared either to keep doing it in perpetuity, or run the risk of alienating at least some of the people when it goes away.

Don Rheem:       Yeah. This was happening prolifically in the recession, companies that had traditionally given bonuses around Christmas and it was supposed to be a Christmas bonus and it get to the end of the year and they would tell their employees, “Look, there is no bonus there. There’s just no money. There was no profit.” But the employees had already spent it. They had already allocated their budgets and they essentially had spent the bonus. So now when they didn’t get it, they thought the company was in effect stealing from them and taking from them. It’s an issue. I was talking with one CEO whose office was in a shopping mall because he thought it was just so convenient for his team and cheap space and the food court made it easy to get food and they could shop and all of this stuff. Well, then the food court goes under renovation and now all of a sudden the employees have to go a long way to get lunch and food. So he says, “Oh, this isn’t good.”

So he starts to cater lunch Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, every week. He just brings it in and pays for it himself. Well, it only took until the third week and guess what some of the employees started doing in week three, come complaining about the food choice. You know, like, “Oh, you got this brand of chicken, you got Kentucky Fried. What’s the matter with Popeye’s or, oh, tacos again.?” I mean, what was considered a gracious and lovely in week one and two became a source of complaint as it became an entitlement. So that’s just not an avenue that I advocate. Well, I want employees engaged to the point where they’re thriving and then they’re very happy as a result of that. And here’s one of them, the wonderful ironies of this process. When employees are engaged, they’re volunteering more effort and they actually feel better giving it. So yes, employees, when they’re engaged, they’re more productive, the company’s more profitable, they’re more creative, they’re more innovative, they’re fewer accidents. All of these things are wonderful, but as they’re increasing this productivity, they’re actually feeling better at the same time about what they’re doing. So it’s a complete win-win when it’s done.

Roger Dooley:     Well, it seems like engaged employees are looking more for an intrinsic rewards, which are always better than extrinsic rewards. And we had Dan Ariely on the show a while back and he talked about some of his research into what motivates people. And these were sort of contrived lab experiments, but in some cases when people enjoy doing something and you began paying them for doing that thing, they drive less joy from it and would do less of it. So I think it’s a danger. Obviously nobody is going to work for free because everybody has to earn a living, but expecting people to be motivated by money or more money it’s not always going to work.

Don Rheem:       No, money is turned out to be a great satisfier, but it’s an inefficient motivator of longterm, sustainable behavior. And when I first say that managers in our workshops start crossing their arms like, “Nah, that’s not true. We need to pair people more.” But then I ask them a simple question, Roger. I say, “If you gave every single one of your employees a 20% raise tomorrow, would you see a 20% improvement in their productivity and their engagement?” And they think about it for a couple seconds and then their heads all shake. “No, no they wouldn’t.” And that’s the point. There’s very low correlation, if any, between salary and benefits in daily behavior because what drives our daily behavior is not an extrinsic motivator like money, typically, it’s the intrinsic motivators as you’ve addressed. Now there are some things, the research shifts a bit. If someone is living at subsistence economic level, there’s no question that more money can be a sufficient motivator. But we’re in this environment now and it’s unique in our history, 99 months of continuous economic growth in the United States and 98 months of continuous job growth in the United States. This is one of the most prosperous times we’ve ever lived in in terms of the bedrock strength of the economy and the number of people working. For most people have moved beyond this subsistence mentality and they’re looking for more.

Roger Dooley:     Don, what are some concrete things that you have seen companies do that turn things around and increased engagement, some specific actions that where they’ve changed something in the workplace that has then caused the metrics that you’re measuring to improve?

Don Rheem:       So when we take our companies through their first year, it’s not unusual in that first year for engagement to go up 30% in one year. So what are we doing inside that company to cause that kind of an increase? Because it’s remarkable. We’re about consistency and predictability. We train managers on how to do that. We have a workshop, for example, on recognition and feedback and validation. And I’ll just give you just a real quick example of this. So I define validation, recognition, and feedback with distinct strategic objectives. Validation is unconditional, and by that I mean a validation occurs not because they’re an A or a B player, you’re validating everyone in the organization when you see them, when you come in contact with them, that’s a hello, it’s a good morning, it’s a good to see you, and it’s not based on what they’ve done for you.

Some part of the recognition system needs to be unconditional. And that’s what the role of validation, is the most humane act of recognizing the presence of another person. Then I define recognition, which is this conditional, and I show them how to slice it thinner and I use that phrase and here’s what I mean by that. Traditionally, recognition is given when people do things that are talked about as being above and beyond, exceed expectations or going the extra mile. Those had been the traditional markers, if you will, for giving recognition. The challenge is, managers are so busy, they’re not walking the floor, they’re not seeing these things happen typically in realtime. So there isn’t much recognition. So I show managers how to slice it thinner. I want them looking for smaller increments of discretionary effort and then comment on it.

And I’ll give you an example. So this is a production company. They’re producing a product that is in such high demand, they’re working two 12 hour shifts, seven days a week. And here I am talking to these managers about trying to get more discretionary effort. And one of the managers stands up and says, “Don, you’ve been with our company for over two years, you know we’re up against the wall. We’re just slammed, 12 hour shifts, seven days a week and you want me to look for discretionary effort?” And I said, “Look, I know how hard your people are working. Just think back on your shift over the last week. Did anyone do something they didn’t have to?” And at first, he was shaking his head no, then his head slowed down and stopped and he went from looking at me to looking down at the carpet.

And so I said, “Who you looking at? Who do you see?” And he said, “Michelle.” I said, “Well, what is she doing?” He said, “Well, it was Thursday night and it was the end of the shift and she heard a noise in one of the machines and the last time she heard that noise, that machine then went down within 24 hours. So she stayed to debrief the next shift about the machine and where she heard the noise so that they could get the engineers over there and look at it before something actually went down.” And I said, “Wow, that’s a fantastic example. Did you tell her to stay to do the debrief?” He said, “No.” I said, “Is that a part of her job description to do that?” He said, “No.” I said, “Did you thank her for doing that?” And then he said, “No.” And so here’s the point I made to him and every of the other managers in the room.

If Michelle gets some recognition for staying to debrief the next shift, is she more or less likely to do that again? And that’s when they get it. Well, clearly, she’s more likely to do it. When we get this recognition and validation, we do get a release of oxytocin or dopamine in the brain. It feels good, but when we’re recognized for doing these things, even these small things, we can start to create a virtuous cycle where we see more and more of them. The third one, just to complete his feedback, by the way, recognition is … No, let me start at the beginning. Validation, daily. This recognition I talked about, weekly. So every manager needs to find something that they’re direct reports have done, that way you can just comment on it, might be helping someone else, it might be staying late, it doesn’t have to be big, but just comment on it.

The third is feedback and feedback is a confidential one on one supportive conversation about four things. First, the their job performance, and that’s typical. Nothing new there. Second, the employee’s behavior. Third is the employee’s attitude. And then the fourth thing that needs to happen in that feedback conversation is the manager, true feedback is two way, so the manager has to ask the employee, how am I doing as your manager? How can I support you better? What could I do differently? Now, that conversation, we would like to happen once a month. So daily validation, weekly recognition, and once a month a constructive feedback conversation. There is no receptor in the brain for constructive criticism. Anything negative is a punch to the brain and we know that it takes five positives to neutralize one negative in the brain. So we want to be able to provide feedback in such a way that it isn’t constantly sending people spinning off feeling it was unfair out of context. You don’t know the full story. This is why we have … chapter six in the book is on accountability about how to hold people accountable without being negative. We want to do this in a new way, not just top down punitive and hierarchical, but in a new way that fits better with where the brain can respond affirmatively

Roger Dooley:     Yeah, and that is such good advice. And I know having managed people myself, it’s so hard for a manager to adapt to doing that because I know even an annual performance review, you talk to most managers, “Oh, I hate that. It’s so time consuming and then I got to talk to every employee.” Say, okay, well, now you’re going to do sort of a light version of that every month. You can do this a even more frequently. But if you can get into that mindset, I’m sure it will increase the engagement and also probably the manager learn a lot more than if they’re just sort of letting folks go on autopilot.

Don Rheem:       Oh, absolutely. The other thing we do is we’ve created a web-based resource. It’s the We provide to our clients and it’s self assessments, it’s tools, it’s tips, it’s links to Ted talks, it’s everything that they need in order to improve on their craft as a leader. And so what we want to do is we want to surround managers with support. And I don’t really think it’s fair to measure managers and then not come back and give them new skills so that they can get a better score. As an ecologist, I see it as it’s an ecosystem approach. You want to measure, then you want to equip them with new skills, and then you want to surround them with resources that is available to them in exactly the moment that I needed because typically the managers at home and Sunday evening, they realize they’ve got this conversation with an employee is going to be a tough one the next morning and they need the resources right then, and that’s what we provide.

Roger Dooley:     I think that’s probably a good place to wrap up Don. Now, let me remind the audience that today we are speaking with Don Rheem, author of Thrive By Design, The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures. Don we’ve just heard about Is there any place else where people can find you and your ideas?

Don Rheem:       The company website is The letter e, the number three and You can learn more about the book at, again, that platform for managers assigned space platform is

Roger Dooley:     Great. Well, as usual, we will link to those places and to any other resources we spoke about on the show notes Page and we’ll have a transcription there too for you to read or download. Don, thanks for being on the show.

Don Rheem:       Oh, it’s been a pleasure Roger. Thank you so much for sponsoring the show, focusing on the role of the brain and behavior.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Brainfluence Podcast. To continue the discussion and to find your own path to brainy success, please visit us at

Join 23,647 smart marketers like you.
Better results, less money! Get my newest, best ideas free!

Leave a Reply