sexta-feira, 21 de outubro de 2011

Change or die - Parte 5

Supporting Change

Even when leaders have reframed the issues brilliantly, it's still vital to give people the multifaceted support they need. That's a big reason why 90% of heart patients can't change their lifestyles but 77% of Ornish's patients could -- because he buttressed them with weekly support groups with other patients, as well as attention from dieticians, psychologists, nurses, and yoga and meditation instructors.

Xerox's executives learned this lesson well. Four years ago, when the company was in crisis, they came up with a new vision that required salespeople to change the way they had always worked. "Their whole careers, salespeople had done one thing," says James Firestone, president of Xerox North America, who leads a sales force of 5,400. "They would knock on doors, look for copiers, see how old they were, and sell a refresh. They knew how to do that." The salespeople had such predictable routines that they could plan their days, weeks, even years. It was comforting. But it just wasn't succeeding any longer.

Under the new strategy, the salespeople were supposed to really engage with customers so they could understand the complexities of how their offices operated and find opportunities to sell other products, such as scanners and printers. Maybe they would find that the customer actually needed fewer machines that could do more than the old ones had. Learning about the client's needs meant that the sales reps had to take a lot more time and talk to more people about broader issues. It undermined the cozy predictability of their routines. The reps became anxious, Firestone recalls. "They'd say, 'I know how to sell and make a living the old way, but not the new way.' "

Their anxiety was compounded by the fact that Xerox lagged in giving them the support they needed. It often took a couple of months before the salespeople received their scheduled training in the new approach. And it took two years before the company changed its incentive pay system to fit better with the new model, in which the reps had to invest a lot more time and effort before they signed deals. Eventually, though, the change effort, by expanding the sales focus to a larger range of products, helped Xerox avoid bankruptcy and return to profitability. "People need a sense of confidence that the processes will be aligned internally," Firestone says. "For large companies, this is where change usually fails." Even if change starts at the top, it can easily die somewhere in the middle. That's why Xerox now holds "alignment workshops" that ask middle managers -- the people who make processes work -- to outline the ways its systems could inhibit its agendas for change.

This Is Your Brain on Change

Are most of us like the fearful copier salespeople who dread disruption to their routines? Neuroscience, a field that has exploded with insight, has a lot more to say about changing people's behavior -- and its findings are guardedly optimistic. Scientists used to believe that the brain became "hardwired" early in life and couldn't change later on. Now researchers such as Dr. Michael Merzenich, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco, say that the brain's ability to change -- its "plasticity" -- is lifelong. If we can change, then why don't we? Merzenich has perspective on the issue since he's not only a leading neuroscientist but also an entrepreneur, the founder of two Bay Area startups. Both use PC software to train people to overcome mental disabilities or diseases: Scientific Learning Corp. focuses on children who have trouble learning to read, and Posit Science Corp. is working on ways to prevent, stop, or reverse cognitive decline in older adults.

Merzenich starts by talking about rats. You can train a rat to have a new skill. The rat solves a puzzle, and you give it a food reward. After 100 times, the rat can solve the puzzle flawlessly. After 200 times, it can remember how to solve it for nearly its lifetime. The rat has developed a habit. It can perform the task automatically because its brain has changed. Similarly, a person has thousands of habits -- such as how to use a pen -- that drive lasting changes in the brain. For highly trained specialists, such as professional musicians, the changes actually show up on MRI scans. Flute players, for instance, have especially large representations in their brains in the areas that control the fingers, tongue, and lips, Merzenich says. "They've distorted their brains."

Businesspeople, like flutists, are highly trained specialists, and they've distorted their brains, too. An older executive "has powers that a young person walking in the door doesn't have," says Merzenich. He has lots of specialized skills and abilities. A specialist is a hard thing to create, and is valuable for a corporation, obviously, but specialization also instills an inherent "rigidity." The cumulative weight of experience makes it harder to change.

How, then, to overcome these factors? Merzenich says the key is keeping up the brain's machinery for learning. "When you're young, almost everything you do is behavior-based learning -- it's an incredibly powerful, plastic period," he says. "What happens that becomes stultifying is you stop learning and you stop the machinery, so it starts dying." Unless you work on it, brain fitness often begins declining at around age 30 for men, a bit later for women. "People mistake being active for continuous learning," Merzenich says. "The machinery is only activated by learning. People think they're leading an interesting life when they haven't learned anything in 20 or 30 years. My suggestion is learn Spanish or the oboe."

Meanwhile, the leaders of a company need "a business strategy for continuous mental rejuvenation and new learning," he says. Posit Science has a "fifth-day strategy," meaning that everyone spends one day a week working in a different discipline. Software engineers try their hand at marketing. Designers get involved in business functions. "Everyone needs a new project instead of always being in a bin," Merzenich says. "A fifth-day strategy doesn't sacrifice your core ability but keeps you rejuvenated. In a company, you have to worry about rejuvenation at every level. So ideally you deliberately construct new challenges. For every individual, you need complex new learning. Innovation comes about when people are enabled to use their full brains and intelligence instead of being put in boxes and controlled."

What happens if you don't work at mental rejuvenation? Merzenich says that people who live to 85 have a 50-50 chance of being senile. While the issue for heart patients is "change or die," the issue for everyone is "change or lose your mind." Mastering the ability to change isn't just a crucial strategy for business. It's a necessity for health. And it's possibly the one thing that's most worth learning.

Fonte: Fast Company, by Alan Deutschman

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