Emotional intelligence: the game-changer for transforming businesses

02 Apr 2020

In the turbulence of transforming businesses, leaders consistently fail to consider one element crucial to their success: their people. Organisations have spent the better part of the last decade transforming in a bid to keep up with constant disruption, the fast pace of technological change, and skills shortages.

And while some are slowly starting to see results, most are not getting far ahead, according to McKinsey. Founder of training and consulting company Ideagarden, Jenny Williams, says the issue starts with the word “transformation”.

“It tends to imply that we’re going to come up with a plan and then we’re going to go through a major period of upheaval and then we’re finished. This is fundamentally flawed because ultimately everybody is in a constant state of change,” Williams says.

Over the years, Williams has led major companies like HFC and Compare the Market through digital, brand and business transformations. As such, she has seen the focus being placed on the same areas: identifying the technology needed, working out the ROI and the business case, and developing a rollout plan.

“Having been doing this for 30 years, all of that stuff is important. But it’s actually nowhere near as challenging, nor can it be successful, if you can’t get the people within the organisation to use the technology and apply it,” Williams says. “Getting the ROI out of a transformation requires that you invest almost as much effort in making sure that people take it up, as you had in bringing on the technology.”

Because after years of continual change, employees start suffering the effects of change fatigue. Traditional change-management tools and techniques are simply not enough to help navigate people through a state of perpetual upheaval. Engagement scores can be easily skewed, depending on how they are structured, and the time it takes to collate, plan and action the results can take too long.

“If you’re lucky it gets half an hour on a boardroom agenda. It can then take another month for the management team to formulate any kind of action plan and six months before anything actually happens within the organisation — by which stage, most of the people who had a major issue have probably left,” she says.

“We are in a constant state of change — and individuals struggle with that. We need to support employees through these struggles.”

This, she says, requires a shift to a transformation mindset which starts at developing emotional intelligence at both an individual and board level. “I think the challenge is that a lot of organisations aren’t emotionally intelligent. At an individual level that is about building up the capacity of self-awareness and self-monitoring, and to respond more quickly to situations,” says Williams.

“At the board level it’s about becoming aware of the state of their workforce and having the capacity to deal with how that may be tracking in a more responsive manner.”

Williams says businesses can start building more emotionally intelligent workplaces by applying some new ways of thinking:

  1. Bring it to board level — Make employee engagement a business imperative, not a HR issue.
  2. Make it count — Make the wellbeing and experience of your employees as important as your NPS score.
  3. Find your key players — Think about who the key employees in your organisation are, not by seniority but by influence and tenure, and involve them in important conversations.
  4. Measure right — Implement new employee engagement and experience measures that provide actionable results fast.
  5. Support a transformation mindset — Develop new mindsets and support your employees in accepting that change is constant and normal, and day-to-day learning is a part of life.
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