The concept of emotional
intelligence and its impact on a firm’s efficiency has fast gained recognition.
Caroline Horn offers a guide to converting emotion into action
Personal qualities and
people skills such as empathy and self-knowledge – otherwise known as emotional
intelligence – are increasingly being seen as good for business. Colin Selby,
director of business psychology consultancy Selby MillSmith, des-cribes
emotional intelligence as "the capacity for self-awareness and the
capability to sympathise, which is linked to how a person manages their
behaviour and skills they use at work." Since US psychologist Daniel
Goleman applied the term to the workplace in 1996 (Emotional Intelligence – why
it can matter more than IQ), interest in the concept has grown with a number of
studies into its positive effect on areas such as leadership skills, managing
change and staff retention.
Tim Sparrow, course
director at the Centre for Applied Emotional Intelligence, says, "There
has been a distinct change in the approach to emotional intelligence over the
past 18 months. To begin with, after people found it was measurable, they were
interested in simply developing it and it was seen as the answer to everyone’s
prayers. Now, people are more interested in what you can do, how you can use
emotional intelligence and how you can intervene to do something about it. At
senior levels, it is correlated with effective performance and, because it is
recognised it is can be developed, that you can get a long-term effect."
He adds, "People
are also now more aware that emotional intelligence is not one thing – it is
made up of lots of related things. Early tests tended to give you a figure of
your "EQ" which was unhelpful have different strengths in different
areas and what is important is that shape, rather than "you are good at
this or that.’"
Goleman believes that
emotional intelligence covers a number of aspects of personality, including
self-awareness, emotional management, self-motivation, empathy, relationship
management, communication skills and personal style.
A number of studies
are also under way to show how such skills can affect an organisation’s growth
and how companies can develop their own "emotional capital". Dr
Malcolm Higgs of Henley Management College is examining the extent to which
creating the right environment can effect the development of emotional
intelligence in an organisation. His research, still at an early stage,
involves looking at the measure to which a particular culture can support or
inhibit emotional intelligence.
He has studied 180
people across 11 organisations. "We found that the more a culture is
associated with emotional intelligence, the more it attracts and retains
people," says Dr Higgs. "This links in with other studies showing a
link between emotional intelligence in an organisation – its emotional capital
– and an individual’s morale and levels of stress. The higher the emotional
intelligence, the lower the levels of stress."
There are a number of
different ways to look at emotional intelligence, says James Park, managing
director of consultancy Antidote. "What we try to do is enable an
organisation to look at the interaction between the individuals and
organisational structure and culture in an ongoing way. We describe this as emotional
literacy – how individuals’ skills and abilities manifest themselves comes down
to the way in which they respond to an organisation."
There are a range of
issues involved in building emotional capital, from assessing emotional
intelligence and defining which areas to develop, to deciding where a company’s
priorities lie in terms of developing competencies. Dr Higgs comments, "I
have been involved in projects where emotional intelligence is becoming a
significant part of coaching leaders. That is increasingly coming down to
There is, he adds, no
quick fix. "You hear quite a lot of people talking about developing
emotional intelligence but it is not something you can deliver through a
two-day course – there is no quick fix."
And emotional capital
is taking on increasingly global perspectives. Peter Melrose, partner of Hay
Management Consultants, says, "In the past couple of years we have been
working increasingly with the HR departments of large organisations to address the
issue of emotional intelligence. Organisations are becoming very interested in
comparing their levels of emotional intelligence against international
There are a number of
areas a company needs to consider once it has decided to develop their "emotional
capital". A five-point plan towards developing emotional capital in your
Assess and develop
Initially, says Dr
Higgs, it is important that the organisation spends time explaining what
emotional intelligence is and exploring the issues. That will help
"kick-start" it in the development process. "You have to find
out which people are good at using assessment, preferably on a 360-degree
basis, then give careful feedback," he says. "Coaching can be on a
lengthy one-to-one basis or part of a development programme."
Once the assessments
have been completed and people understand where their strengths and weaknesses
lie, it is important to find out what they are interested in changing. Dr Higgs
adds, "It is very clear that, unless someone is motivated to change, they
won’t put in the effort to do it. If they don’t buy into the result, they won’t
commit to it".
This, says Dr Higgs,
is where 360-degree feedback is important in self-assessment. "If you
simply sit people through tests and give them the results, people can
rationalise it and you can get more denial. With 360-degree feedback, the
difference between how people see themselves and how others see them is very
clear. Individuals then need to consider the different areas and decide what
they will work on."
You also need to
decide what is the most appropriate way to develop those areas, says Sparrow.
"There are some people you can test, explain the results, and they will
pick it up and run with it. Others are not so good at doing that and they need
support from a person outside the organisation. Different people need different
Enable teams to learn
on the job
Learning on the job is
where most learning takes place, but for it to be effective, a very specific
agenda is required, says Dr Higgs. "Prioritise. Get members to work on one
area of emotional intelligence at a time, not all seven areas. Generally, you
are looking at six-to-nine months to see a noticeable change in one area,
although it speeds up after that."
Since a team will
often include counterbalancing strengths and techniques, individuals can learn
to work with the skills of others, rather than competing against them. Dr Higgs
adds, "Individuals need to recognise the strengths they have. If they are
in a team and have to deal with a complex decision but don’t have all the
information, and there is one member who is strong on intuition, then they
learn to listen to that person."
Teamwork is also
important because members can give each other constant feedback – an important
part of the learning process. Dr Higgs comments, "To some extent, its
effectiveness depends on the organisation’s culture and whether it is an open
culture where people can give and receive feedback. If so, development will be
Team work has also
become more sophisticated, adds Sparrow. "When emotional intelligence
started hitting the headlines, a lot of HR professionals said they wanted to
work with it, and asked for team tests. There weren’t any available specifically
for teams, so companies applied individual tests to teams."
But that is missing
the point, he says. "We all behave differently in different teams or
groups. In some, you have to watch your backs while others are supportive. The
emotional intelligence of a team is not just a fraction of the individuals on
the team – some teams foster emotional intelligence behaviour, some do not. So
you need to use a measure, like the one we have developed, that tests group
And there are always
individuals who will do all they can to avoid the challenges of team work,
warns Selby. "While team work is very effective in enhancing awareness,
people will change their work or team rather than their behaviour in order to
integrate effectively into a team." He adds that other forms of
"training" such as psychotherapy "can help an individual resolve
conflicts that are causing them pain in their emotional behaviours".
and groups’ ability to self-develop
There is growing
interest in self-directed learning, says Melrose. "The principle is that
an individual has to own their own learning process. Because of that, as much
of the learning needs as possible need to be in the workplace rather than a
training room." The elements of emotional intelligence are best developed
on a sustained basis, agrees Dr Higgs, but adds that while the elements provide
a useful framework for people developing themselves, that needs to be supported
by coaching, mentoring and peer mentoring – which also helps draw emotional
intelligence further down the organisation. He points out that it is also
important that individuals attend an initial workshop on the development of
feedback skills – how to give feedback and how to listen to it.
Selby also recommends
a series of training modules followed by coaching at the place of work so
people can continuously learn what they have achieved, and where they need to
do more work. But while self-learning is important, he comments, "Without
coaching, it’s a waste of time, and the coaching has to be continuous."
Organisations can use
various appr-oaches to self-development, says Dr Higgs. "One organisation
we worked with looked into emotional intelligence and aspects concerning its
salespeople. Each of the sales team identified areas they needed to focus on
and set up what were called ‘development clubs’ focusing on different areas.
"They meet every
couple of months and work together as a group or pairs and act as coaches
together. The group is given a lot of autonomy so, if they identify a problem,
they can bring someone in to work with them on that topic. That comes back to
the culture in the organisation – it is recognised that that development is
important, and they are supported."
Develop a new breed of
leaders to transform a firms’ culture
Some people claim
emotional intelligence is more important the higher you go in an organisation,
says Dr Higgs. "We looked at people’s competencies in terms of change and
their ability to lead change. The assessment was competency-based, using
360-degree measures for leadership capability and then using a 360-degree
measure of emotional intelligence. We found that six of the seven elements we
have identified for emotional intelligence were related to five areas of
leadership capabilities. I have since been using the two together in my
‘developing leadership’ training programmes."
looking to introduce emotional intelligence alongside leadership training needs
to clarify the purpose of its leadership training, says Selby. "You need
to consider if your organisation is looking at succession planning or a
person’s competencies within a job context; 360-degree feedback is good for the
latter, while emotional intelligence measures will give you a good indication
of someone’s potential and how that person can be developed in terms of their
He adds, "There
are different types of leaders. Those who have displayed early promise of
leadership promise by taking on responsibilities will benefit from emotional
intelligence training because they have shown potential and motivation. They
will be good at influencing people, so will take the workforce with them,
whereas a crisis leader won’t take other people forward with them – they would
expect people simply to follow them."
And even leaders might
need persuading that they need to change, says Sparrow. "You might have a
leader who is a difficult person to work with in a team situation. The
important thing is to realise that you can’t make people change; you have to
persuade them that it is worth changing. That is, help them to realise that the
way they are is getting in the way of what they need to get done, and this can
be quite a challenge for people.
Build new skills for
Dr Higgs argues that
HR people should themselves have high levels of emotional intelligence. He
says, "The techniques of HR tend to be quite fixed, for example in terms
of reward, and HR people really need to understand how this plays into the
culture of the organisation. They might find there are other things they need
to develop – they might need to address management leadership issues, for
example – so they can create the climate in an organisation where emotional
intelligence will flourish."
runs a nine-month action learning course for professionals, called the
Certificate in Applied Emotional Intelligence.
He says, "People
are beginning to realise that emotional intelligence is not something you can
learn about. It’s very difficult to help people develop emotional intelligence
unless you have emotional intelligence yourself."
Short of undertaking
extensive courses, there is plenty of professional help available for diagnosis
and a suggested course of action, although, as Higgs warns, in purely technical
terms HR departments need to be clear about the material they are using to
implement emotional intelligence. "The challenge is to get good quality –
what is clearly and soundly proven or demonstrated. A lot of people are re-badging
stuff as emotional intelligence. You need a deep understanding of the subject
to know what is useful and what is not."
Above all, says Selby,
"HR professionals need to move away from the ethic which produces safe
decisions towards focusing on profitable decisions – guiding and influencing –
that will help to drive a company forward."