Four strategies to future proof your child and family serving organization

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Are you feeling a constant sense of uncertainty related to on-going disruptive change and wondering how your organization is going to successfully navigate the turbulence? Do you wish you were further ahead or feel like you aren’t tapping and leveraging true potential?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, you are not alone.

Although we don’t hold a crystal ball that allows us to gaze into the future, thanks to recent advances in science we do know  some things that can be done to better prepare for the times ahead. If you are a  leader in children’s mental health, child welfare, or juvenile justice and want to be an adaptive, flexible, resilient, high performing organization that not only stays afloat, but rides the waves of change with grace, these four strategies may be useful for you. 

1. Maximize Engagement
One of the biggest challenges system of care leaders face today is how to effectively manage the human resistance to change. This resistance impacts an organization's ability to innovate and adapt to a constantly changing environment. According to the most recent 2013 Gallup Poll, “70% of US workers are not engaged or actively disengaged in the workplace.” Unfortunately, those statistics have been consistent over the last decade and further studies show this to be the global trend as well.

Engagement lies at the heart of commitment and is the foundation for any successful change endeavor. Lack of engagement has a profound impact on a child and family serving organization’s ability to innovate, be creative, and optimize performance. Disengagement is the No.1 driving force behind why change efforts fail or simply underperform, and the cost of disengagement to human service systems can be staggering. Recent findings in the field of contemporary neuroscience reveal that many leaders do not understand what drives human behavior in the workplace. Because of this leaders often unintentionally induce what is referred to as a threat state in the brains of their employees. This leads to the opposite of what system of care leaders say they want- employees who are attracted to organizational goals, fascinated by the work, and committed to achieving positive child and family outcomes. An effective solution is to understand and apply the hard science that underlies engagement to better manage the deeply social context of the workplace. This goes below the surface to addresses the underlying challenges of engagement so that system of care leaders can effectively create a workplace where individuals and teams are more collaborative, innovative, co-creative, productive, and resilient in the face of change and growth. 

2. Build Stress Resilience
The Institute of HeartMath® has defined stress resilience as “the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity.” Child and family serving organizations with low levels of stress resilience are at risk for becoming obsolete. Human service workers who have more resilience are better prepared for and often avoid many of the difficult situations and challenges that need bouncing back from. The greater the resilience capacity, the greater an employee’s ability to maintain composure in the face of adversity and on-going unsettling change. In other words, this is what allows people to stay in charge of their reactions and perceive things with clarity. Employees who have the opportunity to learn how to build and sustain stress resilience are more intelligent about how they direct and use their energy. This prevents stress buildup. Individuals and teams who have a better ability to self-regulate and be in charge of their emotions are more adaptive and flexible. This is fundamental to high levels of performance. 

Stress is the #1 "proxy killer" in the world today. It's no longer a matter of just simply managing stress. The science is clear - if you are a system of care leader who wants sustainable improvements in individual and team effectiveness, increases in productivity and higher levels of overall well-being regardless of the circumstance or adverse situation, you must put your attention on building stress resilience within your organization. To ignore this is negligent and unfortunately sets your organization up for a future downfall. 

3. Optimize Performance
Performance starts in the brain and is impacted by both internal and external factors in the surrounding environment.  If these factors are not balanced and managed properly, it can be detrimental to the health and performance of an individual, team, and entire organization. In order to optimize performance, system of care leaders must first be aware of and have an acute understanding of the elements necessary to make a healthy environment for the brain to operate at its peak.  

To improve communication, creativity, and collaborative teamwork, breakthroughs in modern neuroscience highlight the importance of working with vs. against the physiology of the brain.  Part of doing this involves strategically developing regions of the brain that support the outcomes organizations want to achieve. To optimize performance in the workplace, not only do employees need the social landscape of the workplace to be rewarding, they need access to brain strengthening activities that grow the areas of the brain associated with self-regulation, higher order thinking, and overall cognitive functioning. Employees are paid to think. The least organizations can do is create the space and support for doing so. System of care leaders who understand how our brains work at their best are better prepared to create a brain-friendly workplace atmosphere that helps others show up at their best. Learning how to leverage knowledge about the human brain as it relates to organizational performance gives system of care leaders practical insight into many important aspects of work, such as how to keep cool under pressure, why change is painful, and what helps people learn. 

4. Re-align Culture
Shifting culture requires changing long-entrenched habits. Most people think of habits as everyday behaviors that you can see. However, in addition to behaviors, habits also include thinking, emotional responses, and decisions, which are all hardwired in the brain at a neurobiological level. Neuroscientific discoveries highlight that many of our conventional leadership approaches to changing these habits may be keeping us stuck in old habitual patterns. Hence the painful barriers associated with attempts to change culture within a system of care or any human system. Leaders who understand how neuroplasticity, our brains ability to rewire itself with experience, and the power of focus can be leveraged to change culture have moved away from the old outdated believe system that put limits on the human potential for change, learning, and growth. They also understand that to shift the culture of an entire organization, there needs to be an understanding that everyone is part of the "Organizational Brain" and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.   

Re-aligning culture involves the interruption of deep-rooted belief systems that lie below conscious awareness. Many of our traditional change management practices in systems of care don’t disrupt these patterns. On the contrary, they further engrain them, creating a sense that changing ways of thinking and being in a child and family serving system is virtually impossible to do or it simply takes too long. This is an antiquated view of change and does not take into account the latest insights from science that help us better understand what it really takes to move past status quo. 

Habit has a way of taking over the wheel more often than we realize. This state of mindlessness fosters stagnation and sets human service systems up for rigidity and chaos- two places you don’t want to be. 

What do you need to do to ensure your child and family serving organization is set up for success, both today and in the future?

To learn more about how to future proof your organization, visit Also, don’t miss our upcoming online neuroLeader MasterClass, where we teach change leaders how to use the neuroscience of leadership and change management to optimize performance, accelerate the pace of change, and shift culture. Class begins January 26thClick here to learn more.

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About Laurie Ellington
Laurie Ellington, MA, LPC, PCC, RCC, HMCT, brings 20 years of experience in the fields of coaching, training, consulting, and behavioral medicine- helping individuals, family systems, state and local government, and non-profit organizations change the status quo.  Combining research from contemporary neuroscience, modern physics, positive psychology, systems thinking, and intelligent energy management, Laurie helps leaders use science to dramatically improve performance, accelerate change, and transform culture.  

Laurie is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Zero Point Leadership™ and co-Founder of neuroLeader University.  She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, ICF Professional Certified Coach, Certified Brain-Based Leadership Coach, and HeartMath Certified Trainer.  Laurie is also a faculty member with the Office of Personnel Management Center for Leadership Development, where she teaches government leaders the neuroscience of leadership and the science of leadership resilience. 


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