Business Edge Neuroscience: The Executive Brain

Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D.


Introduction

Businesses depend on the productivity of employees to provide results that meet the organization’s mission. To accomplish goals that support mission success, corporations seek, interview, and onboard employees who have skill sets that fulfill organizational requirements to achieve necessary goals. Current human resource processes adequately meet the basic qualifications for employment—but after the onboarding process, what next?


To be successful, organizations cannot rely on employees to self-motivate, self-regulate, and progress professionally; however, humans are not designed for repetition and routine. The human mind hungers for experimentation, exploration, and learning (Cable, 2019)—opportunities often missing from traditional organizational structures and task management. Because this serves to prevent us from satisfying those hungers in the workplace, employees tend to cease progressing and may become static or less productive members of the organization’s team.


Gaining understanding of how employees’ brains function is essential to the very core of organizations. This empowers leaders to build organizational culture, including defining the mission and its supporting functions. By understanding how people work, leaders may help employees and peers become innovative, productive, and engaged (Scarlett, 2016). This creates an environment fostering long-lasting gains in productivity—for employees and the organization.


The Executive Brain

Executive functions are defined as a set of processes that have to do with managing self and resources to accomplish goals. In this sense, it is a broad term for the neurologically based skills that involve self-regulation and mental control. Executive functions also serve to connect past experiences with present actions and are used when we accomplish such tasks as planning, organizing, strategic thinking, and paying attention to and remembering details of communication or observations (Forkner, 2019). Executive functions, like our bodies, continue to mature and develop connections well into adulthood based on physical changes in the brain, learning, and life experiences.


A way to identify effective function effectiveness is by using the Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory – Adult (CEFI-A). The CEFI-A includes evaluation of executive functions as indicated in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Executive function areas - CEFI-A.


The competencies represented by the labels in Figure 1 are defined as follows:

  • Attention. Measures how well an adult can avoid distractions, concentrate on tasks, and sustain attention.

  • Inhibitory Control. Reflects an adult’s control over behavior or impulses.

  • Planning. Reflects how well and adult develops and implements strategies to accomplish tasks.

  • Emotion Regulation. Measures an adult’s control and management of emotions.

  • Initiation. Describes an adult’s ability to begin tasks or projects without being prompted.

  • Self-Monitoring. Describes an adult’s self-evaluation of his/her performance or behavior.

  • Flexibility. Describes how well an adult can adapt to circumstances, including problem-solving ability.

  • Organization. Describes how well an adult manages personal effects, work, or multiple tasks.

  • Working Memory. Reflects how well an adult can keep information in mind that is important for knowing what to do and how to do it, including remembering important items, instructions, and steps.


Assessing and improving these competencies through neuroscience technology is a non-invasive way to enhance performance.


Brain Performance

The key to brain performance is neuroplasticity; that is, if the brain was not able to be molded and balanced to optimize performance, brain performance would not be a viable process. Brain performance uses neuroscience to determine the needs for balancing the brain (Hassed, 2008). The fundamental difference between media such as yoga or meditation and the media is that the former focuses on conscious advancing to mindfulness, whereas the Vitanya protocols focus on involuntary processes. There is no need for client modifying behaviors—this concept is central to the Vitanya Brain Performance program.


Each employee’s ability to perform at their optimum levels of both mental and physical health is critical to organizational success. The results of a study at Charles Schwab underscores the important role that neuroscience may play in the future. The assessment of executive functioning used the Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory – Adult (CEFI-A), which measures nine areas of executive functioning. At the end of the program, the employees had an aggregate 17% overall improved executive functioning and increased work performance. Specific areas included:

  • 25% emotion regulation

  • 23% organization

  • 23% attention

  • 22% working memory

  • 15% inhibitory control

  • 14% initiation

  • 13% planning

  • 12% flexibility

  • 9% self-monitoring


The New Competitive Advantage?

Human success depends largely upon a healthy brain. Neuroscience is rapidly advancing our understanding that the brain may be balanced and optimized to provide greater efficiencies. Whether workplace demands are primarily mental or physical, the brain will be the largest contributor to employee accuracy, efficiency, and productivity.


It was well-illustrated in the Schwab experience that neuroscience can be utilized to provide employee improvement at work. During the program administered by Vitanya, all participants realized dramatic improvements at work, evidenced by three being promoted during the course of the program. The results of all the participants supported the position that brain performance enhanced workplace productivity and shows great potential to provide a value-added proposition for employees and companies alike in today’s competitive business environment.


References

Cable, D. (2019). Alive at work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.


Forkner, C. (2019). The impact of neurofeedback on PTSD: A case study. Insights to a Changing World, 2019(2).


Hassed, C. (2008). Mindfulness, well-being and performance. Neuroleadership Journal, 1, 1-7.


Scarlett, H. (2016). Neuroscience for organizational change. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page.





Dr. Forkner is a research psychologist with Vitanya Brain Performance. He is involved in helping shape the future for business, education, and the community. His current research focuses on psychological studies, including relationships between assessment instruments and behaviors, neuroscience, and mental health and wellness.