LifeXchange

The Human Development Cycle: Powerful Knowledge For Growing Your Business

This is why people behave the way they do and how to use it to make amazing positive changes for your business

Why do people behave the way they do? Why do employees get stuck, perform, underperform, quit, stay, go? And what makes one person more resilient than another when there’s a “crisis”? To help us understand all of these, LifeXchange created a unique model for understanding our behaviour. It’s called the Human Development Cycle. 

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It’s divided into four areas of basic human needs that constantly spiral into each other:

And this is why you absolutely need to understand how all these things work to be able to get people behind you to drive real positive change in your business.

WHAT DRIVES PEOPLE’S BEHAVIOUR?

Our brains are these amazing machines that use a network of interconnected and super-powerful cells called neurons to build neural pathways (a specific way of thinking) about each and every little thing that we do, feel, want, etc. 

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Each of us has 100 billion of these neurons, and neuroscientists estimate we can store up to 2.5 million gigabytes of data this way. For comparison, if your brain was a digital video recorder, that’s enough to store three million hours of HD TV shows. And you’d have to leave the TV on for about 300 years to record all that. 

That’s how powerful each and every one of us’s brain is (and yes, we all have entirely equal capacity, there simply is no such thing as smart or dumb).

But here’s the thing that most of us fail to realise about how the brain really works: It’s constantly trying to make you not have to think about the things you do, say and feel.

HUMANS DEVELOP TO DEFAULT TO THE SUBCONSCIOUS

You’ve heard of muscle memory before, right? It’s a way of expressing the idea that if you do something over and over again, it eventually becomes second nature and you can do it without thinking. That’s why we say “practice makes perfect” – athletes perform the same motion over and over again until it becomes automated.

But “muscle memory” is a misnomer. It actually has nothing to do with your muscles. What’s really happening is that you’re building neural pathways in your brain and body. And what we don’t realise is that our brains are doing that constantly, with every single input it gets. 

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Our brains try and automate all our responses. It’s not just physical tasks – your brain does the same thing with your emotions, desires, fears, needs, learning – every possible thing you can think of, your brain is trying to create a pathway so it can store your default reaction – or behaviour – in your subconscious. So that next time you’re in a similar situation, you don’t even need to think about it, you just react according to your pre-programming.

That means that if I speak to a 30, 40 or 50-year-old person, their brain is usually processing what I’m saying, not through their current “brain”, but through a series of automated responses (behaviours) that might have developed when they were just 3 years old.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Now, how do we break through that barrier? How do we get through in a way that empowers and benefits everybody? By following (“mimicking”) the same basic steps that the 30, 40, 50-year-old’s brain went through when it created that default subconscious response at age 3: by understanding the Human Development Cycle and using it to really get through and connect.

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WHY THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT CYCLE?

Because it’s incredibly powerful to understand that, whenever you meet someone new – a new employee or a new boss etc. – that the relationship that starts right there at that moment is essentially like a little newborn or an infant. 

And that relationship in its infancy is a chance to create entirely new neural pathways for all of us to behave in exciting new ways. It’s an opportunity to cut through all the “noise” of our past and our subconscious responses and form entirely new ones. And forming new neural pathways is exciting stuff – just have a look at how Dr Cobus concurred the impossible-seeming backwards brain bike.

The trick in our businesses is to understand how humans and new relationships develop, so we can actively monitor and manage how we handle relationships with employees, to get the cooperation and behaviour that we want and need to get out of each other – for everyone’s benefit. That’s how you start to build a positive culture and social capital in your company.

So, let’s get to it:

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THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT CYCLE

This model is a way of understanding how our minds grow and develop through our relationships with each other. It’s divided into four key areas, and they flow in a certain order. But you’ll notice that we use a spiral element in the Human Development Cycle because, unlike Erikson’s Theory on human development, we recognise that you’re never really finished building on an element in a  relationship – you’re continually coming back to steps 1, 2 and 3 etc. And in that respect, the Human Development Cycle takes a similar stance as the Circle of Courage.

(The two things we mentioned above are other popular development models, and we’ll draw parallels between them and the Human Development Cycle below.)

And it’s super important to understand that they flow into each other – you start with number one, and that leads to number two etc. But you’re continually investing in one and two and three etc. throughout.

THE FOUR KEY AREAS OF THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT CYCLE

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1 CONNECTION

How many times, when a new employee arrives for their first day, do we skim past “connection” (perhaps because we hope their fellow employees will do this one for us) and get straight to learning to do things “our way” or taking responsibility for tasks? Almost every development cycle reminds us that humans don’t work that way. For anyone to really start shining in their role in a new environment, connecting with other people is the first vital step.

Just look at what successful entrepreneur, CEO and leadership lecturer has to say about the value of focusing on the connection between people in your business for building social capital:

With every employee, it’s vital to realise that their attunement and relationships with their peers and others in the company are what will unlock all the positive traits you as the business wants them to achieve later on. Compare the idea of “connection” with the spirit of “belonging” in the resiliency-building theory, the Circle of Courage.

And, of course, it’s the company and leadership’s role to ensure that there’s a focus on connections between employees and the company itself. It starts with building trust and integrity. Can I trust my employer? An important question, because many employees don’t feel safe in their jobs, meaning they can never fully develop in their roles.

Or what if an employee questions the company’s integrity – “we claim to be ‘green’ but we’re dumping waste in the river”? Trust and integrity play a vital part in connection – and, yes, it’s the business’s responsibility to instil them. Compare “connection” with the first vital step also in Erikson’s Theory.

2 COMPETENCY

Every human has an inner drive and desire to perform and achieve. That’s a fact. But, have you noticed that that only truly unlocks once the person feels safe? Remember pre-school and school: A child arrives and, at first, they’re shy, just checking out all these new friends and faces, but after a while (after feeling secure and safe that they can be themselves) they suddenly pick up some art supplies and start painting a masterpiece. News flash: It’s exactly the same for adults at work.

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We only really start engaging and trying out new things and getting creative and industrious (which is exactly what you want employees to do, right?) once we feel safe and connected. It’s the natural next step when you’ve established connection, to try out new things and explore your need to achieve, to build competency.

Without establishing connection first, though, people fear judgement and think it’s better not to try at all – which is one of the first steps to creating a low-performing workforce.

There are some slight variances in the perceived flow of a person’s development, but you can compare the idea of “competency” here with building mastery as mentioned in Erikson’s Theory and in the Circle of Courage.

3 RESPONSIBILITY

Perhaps the single most contentious area for most employers: Autonomy. When we hear the words “autonomy at work”, we imagine total chaos – employees setting their own work hours, endless leave days, and what if productivity suffers? But that’s because we’ve been taught that autonomy is all about flexitime unlimited leave. And it’s not true at all. 

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A much more accurate description is giving employees responsibility. If employees feel connected, they automatically want to achieve and be competent – so they want to work. And the next natural step is responsibility. Give them free rein over how they do their work – let them play, essentially – and they will take initiative and be more creative. Which is what every employer wants from employees.

It’s less about flexitime and more about giving employees full responsibility for and over their tasks. Let them figure out the minute details themselves. We tend to want to control – do it this way, use this template, sit here, be there at this time etc. Whereas if we, instead, say: Here’s the big overall picture of what we need to get done – now go and solve it. And then let them employ their own creativity to figure out how to get it done. That’s responsibility.

When we restrict employees’ potential by coercing and micro-managing every aspect of their day, we trigger a natural response which demotivates and hampers their desire to perform – see mental pushback. And we recognise that it’s hard to grasp at first. But see the weird science behind employee motivation.

Here’s a Dan Pink video where he lays out what really motivates employees:

Compare the idea of “responsibility” here with autonomy as mentioned in Erikson’s Theory and the spirit of “independence” in the Circle of Courage.

4 PURPOSE

Visionary CEO and businessman, Ricardo Semler, who grew his former company by close to 4000% in profit in 20 years by doing things very differently, says there’s really only one question in life: “Why am I here?” Watch:

And experts agree that things really get exciting at work when people see the work they do as being part of their big reason for living, their purpose. And one of the major things we can do for the people in our business is to allow and help them discover that – start with them finding their big overall purpose here in this company. Why are you here, really?

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We see some of the most negative behaviours at work, selfishness and indifference, all stem from not knowing your purpose in your role at the company.

But when people understand their true value at an organisation, they automatically give of themselves fully – training new staff without you asking, helping others around them and really living the company ideal – reinvesting in your social capital. 

Compare the idea of “purpose” here with purpose as mentioned in Erikson’s Theory and the spirit of “generosity” in the Circle of Courage.

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OK, HOW DO I DO THIS IN MY BUSINESS?

Firstly, your business is unique. And secondly this is pretty deep stuff, and there’s a lot more to it than there’s space to express here. So you need real expert insights and guidance. And fortunately, helping businesses employ this knowledge to achieve real growth is exactly what we do here at LifeXchange Solutions.

We have over 13 years’ experience managing complex change and behaviour in individuals, and we’ve helped many companies achieve amazing new understanding and growth through our neuromanagement insights and various organisational management solutions

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But, really, all it takes is just having a chat and seeing what your needs are. And we’d love to buy you a coffee and get to know you. So feel free to contact LifeXchange here.


Experience it for yourself by signing up to see us live at our annual public workshop in Cape Town.

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See real organisational change in action at our recent Goede Hoop Citrus Strengths Workshop and the Feedem Neuro Workshop.

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