The R-brain

How Not To Fail Procurement Transformation

Think about the last major transformation programme you participated in. Hand on heart; do you think it was a success in that it met all of its goals – particularly large savings that were sustainable? According to McKinsey 70% of all transformation programmes fail.

Even with micro-transformations such as those that come from category management and strategic sourcing efforts, the result is often the same.

Why is this? It has nothing to do with the quality and experience of your procurement professionals.

Again from McKinsey, 33% fail due to management behaviour not supporting change and 39% from employee resistance to change. In other words, people account for 72% of all transformational failures.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it can be fixed.

But the way to fix it is not by implementing better governance mechanisms or better programme management or even by carrying out stakeholder analysis to find people of influence who support the programme and can be co-opted to bring on board those who are reluctant.

The way to do it is by recognising how people absorb new information and make decisions on what to do. Once you understand this, you are in a much stronger position to create communications that get people enthused about the change so that they become willing and active participants.

Here’s what you do.

Brain's limbic system vectorIn recent years, neuroscientists have formed a view that we have three brains not one. These brains have evolved over tens of thousands of years and provide distinct capabilities – but they do have a hierarchy.

The newest brain is called the neocortex. This is the brain that majors on speech, logical thinking and problem-solving. The neocortex brain thinks.

An older brain is the limbic brain. This deals with our emotions, moods and memory. The limbic brain feels.

The oldest brain is the R-brain (R standing for reptilian). It is so called because reptiles still largely function with this one brain. The R-brain controls our basic survival functions and “fight or flight” mechanisms. The R-brain decides.

That’s right – the R-brain makes the decisions for us irrespective of what the other two brains have processed. It acts swiftly basing its decisions on things it can process quickly which is why images are so important to it. The R-brain is largely driven by loss rather than gain (which is why sales people can often be panicked by a buyer to concede price reductions – better a lower value account than no account).

The mistake that many transformation programmes make is to concentrate on arguments that appeal to the neocortex brain and neglect the limbic and in particular the R-brain. If there is nothing for people to make a connection with then they reject the idea. Or worse – they say they accept but deep down they don’t and so their behaviour becomes at best passive-resistant to the change you need.

We all do it – how many times have you nearly been sold on something but a small voice at the back of your head says “no, this isn’t for you. There is too much at risk. Too much to lose”?

So how do you appeal to the R-brain?

There are six things that stimulate the R-brain and all of your presentations, one-to-one discussions and written communications need to address one or more of them. Here they are …

  1. Self-centred. Although few people would admit to it, deep down most of us act in ways that best serve us. So use words like “you” and “your” to appeal to them.
  2. Contrast. The R-brain acts swiftly and so needs to see potential loss or risk very quickly. Use before and after imagery in your communication.
  3. Tangible input. The R-brain scans for familiarity and things that are known to be friendly so use imagery that supports these in a way that doesn’t need the brain to do much work. For example, say “saves money” rather than “maximises return on investment”.
  4. Beginning and end. The R-brain’s attention span is short and will ignore much of any detail you give it. This means you have to get across high impact images at the beginning and end of what you have to say. This is when the R-brain is most receptive.
  5. Visual stimuli. The R-brain processes images ten times faster than words so make sure you use images that create a high emotional impact early in your presentation materials.
  6. Emotion. The R-brain is chemically encoded for action in response to emotions. To make you and your case both memorable and remembered use images which elicit an emotional response.

Spend some time crafting appropriate communications based on these six stimuli and the concept of the three brains and your chances of having a successful procurement transformation will multiply.

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