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Challenging Your Employees' Brains

Great business leaders challenge their employees. To have a productive workplace, after all, employees (and their brains) need to explore, test, and challenge. At the same time, challenge needs to be balanced with stress. The right amount and kind of challenge will help keep your employees’ brains active and young. The wrong challenge can result in an unhappy, stress-filled workplace.

Make sure that any challenge you issue is appropriate for the worker’s experience and education. For instance, if all John has ever done for you is work on the assembly line, you wouldn’t throw him into a position in research and development. At least, not without coaching.

And appropriate challenge is key. Challenge should be just a level above the brain’s comfort level. Taking someone out of her comfort zone is great, as long as she knows what is expected of her and coached through the new or more challenging experience.

You can provide challenge for your workers in endless ways. Here are a few ways you can challenge your employees:

  • In small groups or in their teams, ask employees to come up with a better way to accomplish this or that task.

  • Ask an employee to cover for another worker doing a job that is slightly different.

  • Ask employees to think of ways to improve their current duties.

  • Challenge your teams to increase production in a certain area in a specified amount of time, but make it low-stress.

  • Challenge your employees to think of a problem at work and to come up with a solution to that problem.

  • Challenge your employees to have conversations about issues at work and include conflict in those conversations.

Through challenge, your employees become energized. If you challenge them and train them, the learning opportunities may help you retain them. The brain prefers to be challenged!

Because the brain wants to be engaged, it scans its environment for novel things. Predictability actually has to come first: If you’re in a conventional environment, novelty is more tolerable. Stress levels are lower when predictability is in place. A predictable atmosphere and a schedule help the brain relax and feel free to use higher-level thinking to get the job done. Knowing what you need to do frees working memory for imagination and creativity.

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