As a teenager, Zane Harris rebelled against his alternative "hippie" upbringing and went on to pursue a corporate career. But a few years in, he asked himself, "Is this it?" It had occurred to him his parents' views on people, relationships and what it is to be human were more meaningful than simply chasing the money.
As managing partner of Australia's NeuroPower Group, Harris uses recent breakthroughs in neuroscience and behavioural economics to reinvent organisational systems for business leaders.
He says there has long been an individualistic mindset in Western countries when it comes to performance, leadership and motivation, which says "I shape everything and I'm in control of everything".
However, neuroscience shows that our cognitive process has evolved in response to being tribal animals, which means we are far more motivated by social inclusion. This, along with the impact of expression and unexpressed emotion, is what drives agility and innovation in the workplace.
"The regions in your brain for triggering emotion and expression of emotion are linked to creativity and innovation," says Harris.
"You can't create and innovate without conflict because the two are interdependent. Being told to get on with it and do what you're told is not very appealing to people, particularly millennials, and if you have a culture built on that premise, you're going to find it very hard to innovate."
Harris says studies in neuroscience show there are two systems in the brain which compete with each other, "and this makes change really tricky. There's a part of us that wants to grow and develop and be noble, and there's a part that makes us resistant and fearful, which protects our wellbeing. Neither part is good nor bad but it explains why change is so hard, because there's a very deep, emotional part of you that doesn't want to change."
NeuroPower is taking several approaches in reinventing performance management, and one of the over-riding premises is catching people doing the right things, not the wrong things, says Harris.
"This can be achieved by throwing out forced rankings in the annual performance review and just having conversations. Even just the word appraisal gets the brain going nuts and gets it into a compliance mode which means it's not open to feedback."
He says the stated purpose of performance systems is to make people enthusiastic and inspired, but the experience of them is fear of review appraisal. "You can scare someone into complying, but you can't scare someone into being motivated. To motivate someone, you've got to empower them and lead them towards something they want. That's a big shift."
One of the things managers are still getting wrong is hanging on to the idea of heroic leadership, "where leaders have all the control and all the answers. Some of it is to protect power bases and some is just that they don't know another way. That system is outdated and doesn't work in this era of change complexity."
NeuroPower is training managers to coach employees for a non-linear career path, "because it's not very motivating for people to train for a long time to progress in their particular area, when what they're actually wanting is new experiences.
"What does it look like for a manager to be able to say, why don't you go and try something that's not even in my area, even though I've spent the past three years developing you? That's a shift in mindset."
The biggest sin a leader can make is to hold their team back, says Harris. "One of the saddest things to see is a team desperate to grow and progress and learn and add value and experiment being held back by a leader who is not ready and willing to let the team take that journey. That's where the human spirit says, 'You know what? No. You can get stuffed. I'll just come in and do my time and go home.' That's a sad thing but extraordinarily commonplace."
NeuroPower's first New Zealand leadership event is being held over three days at The Northern Club, Auckland, from November 28-30. Harris says the Leadership Intensive will give leaders exposure to the latest thinking in neuroscience, psychology and behavioural economics from around the world, and will be a safe place for people to discuss with other C-suite executives the issues they're currently facing. "Personal transformation is our other objective.
"Our programmes tend to blur the boundaries between who you are and what you do. We believe the two should be closely linked."
The Herald has one ticket to the event to give away. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org by the 17th of November with Neuroscience please in the subject line and include your name and mailing address in the body of the email.