The theory that fitter employees are more engaged employees isn’t new. Forward-thinking organizations are already doing what they can to improve their staff’s physical health. But what about their mental fitness?
A growing number of companies looking for a competitive edge are working to improve their employees’ cognitive performance through targeted mental games and exercises—and they may be on to something.
A mounting stack of research supports the idea that encouraging employees to flex and stretch their minds can result in a fleet of workers with better memory, a greater ability to focus and even an improved ability to innovate. Brain training, studies suggest, may also promote mental health and wellness, potentially offsetting long-term legacy costs associated with caring for an aging workforce.
TELUS Canada, for one, recently worked with Canadian firm Nognz to customize a fitness training workshop for 900 of their employees.
The first workshop, says Nognz scientific director, Dr. Justin Davis, offered an overview of how the brain operates, based on current neuroscience research. The second presented techniques to engage the brain in new ways to achieve better performance.
When the workshops were done, the team had made some quantifiable gains. For example, Scott Gallacher, program manager for technology strategy in TELUS’ emerging mobile solutions group, made significant strides with his recall ability. In a baseline test, Gallacher was given five minutes to memorize 40 words and was only able to recall a few. After the workshop, Gallacher took the test again. Applying the techniques he learned in the workshop, he was able to recall 38 of the 40 words.
Post-workshop polls show a 75% of the TELUS participants felt their job performance would improve as a result of the program and 77% believe the program will improve their ability to progress toward their career goals.
Dan Pontrefact, director of learning and collaboration at TELUS Canada, says his team members took the workshop and its techniques to heart. “Our team members’ acknowledgement that a healthy brain brings healthy gains in their productivity was great to see,” says Pontrefact, who notes that the company is looking at which of its other internal programs might benefit from brain training workshops.
Smaller organizations looking for tangible results might want to consider how training can potentially impact something as practical and critical as sales performance.
U.S.-based brain fitness organization Herrmann International points to 30 years of research backing the notion that sales training strategies can benefit from a different mental approach.
According to Herrmann, selling approaches and buying decisions are rooted in thinking, not behaviors, an idea at odds with how most sales training is delivered. The company’s brain training workshops aim to embed thinking into development strategies, resulting in
improved sales training, better account penetration and greater client loyalty.
“Thinking styles impact how we process information, how we buy and sell, what we pay most attention to, and how we make decisions,” says Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of Herrmann International. “Behavioral approaches can help the salesperson manage a sales conversation in an efficient way, but they don’t reflect the mental processes that actually drive sales activities or purchasing decisions, so they don’t provide the complete set of tools to be persuasive, effective and responsive.”
“Many external factors are impacting behavior; thinking is what’s constant,” says Herrmann-Nehdi.
Any training program, notes David, needs a culture that backs the plan and can help bring new practices and approaches into daily company life. “Brain fitness is a lot like regular fitness,” says Davis. “You aren’t going to see any benefits unless you are committed to making brain fitness part of your daily routine.”