Methods for developing emotional intelligence – or EQ – are no longer seen as the preserve of top tier training. Lucie Carrington looks at its widespread use across the rest of the workforce
For the past few years, managers and workers have watched boggle-eyed as directors have banished emotional incompetence from the boardroom, replacing it – with the help of coaches, gurus and priests – with emotional intelligence or EQ.
Business leaders no longer believe the key to their success lies simply in understanding those around them and the business climate in which they operate. Now they have to be in touch with their inner selves too.
The cynics among us said the EQ could not last – consultants needed another "idea" to sell and so decided to repackage what we all know as interpersonal skills.
However, strictly speaking EQ has a much narrower definition than interpersonal skills, says Tim Sparrow, director of the Centre for Applied Emotional Intelligence.
"It combines what psychologists call interpersonal intelligence – our ability to understand and build relationships with others – with intrapersonal intelligence – our ability to understand ourselves," he says.
And far from disappearing, EQ is fast becoming an essential development tool for all levels of the workforce – management, teamworking, sales and good customer care all depend on high EQ, Sparrow says.
Lancashire Constabulary, for example, has carried out research with occupational psychologists SHL into the EQ of police officers and found it to be above the national average [see box].
The force is now building EQ measures into its competence framework for all police officers.
At the same time, American Express has demonstrated a direct impact of EQ on bottom line results. When the firm introduced EQ training for some of its financial advisers, sales for that group shot up by 20 per cent.
Meanwhile, Miko Weidemanis, VP human resources for Heidelberger Cement, is linking EQ to the spiritual wellbeing of the workforce and has been calling on the help of Indian-born, spiritual guru and Harvard graduate Jagdesh Parekh. The idea is to look at what western business can learn from eastern mysticism.
"The whole approach to business and family is very different in the Far East," Weidemanis says.
Ultimately, he wants all managers right down to graduate trainees to improve their work-life balance by being more in touch with their emotions. Everyone will gain, he insists.
"We will be able to get more out of people and they will get more from their private lives," Weidemanis says.
But as the emotional intelligence creeps into every training provider’s brochure, many such as the Industrial Society, Impact and the Leadership Trust insist they have been offering EQ development as a standard part of their management training for years – it simply hasn’t had a name before.
"A large part of our training has always been based on behaviours, feelings and emotions rather than theoretical knowledge," says Boris Ligema, manager of development training at Impact. "We simply haven’t labelled it as such."
Ligema admits that there is now a certain amount of repackaging going on among training suppliers.
He also points out that the recognition that emotional intelligence now receives has been a big boost to suppliers such as Impact and the Leadership Trust, which grew out of the outdoor training school of development.
The experiential style of learning and the physical challenges they provide and the emphasis on team development is in keeping with EQ.
"It’s right up with emotional intelligence – getting people to ask themselves how they feel when they are exposed to something different from the norm," Ligema says. As a result, Impact is overwhelmed with demand.
But if an EQ approach to leadership, management and team development has always been around, why is it gaining kudos now? To some extent it’s the result of a stable global economy that enables firms to think more widely about their leaders and workers.
And it’s also about the changing nature of the workplace. After years of firms saying people are their strongest asset, it’s starting to come true, says Sparrow of the Centre for Applied Emotional Intelligence.
The pace of technological change means that the advantage firms once gained from new technology is all too transient.
In addition they have become as lean and mean as they can, he says. They therefore depend on existing staff for their competitive edge.
Relationship with business
"If your assets live in the people, then you have to develop those people and make sure they stick with you.
"And the greatest determinant of someone staying lies in their relationship with the business," Sparrow says.
Chrissie Wright, director of course and conference with the Industrial Society, takes the argument further.
"We don’t have the same formal structures and hierarchies in business so the old-style command relationships are not possible now.
"At the same time only the strength of the relationships we build at work will enable us to achieve our goals," she says.
In addition, Wright points out, psychologists can now measure emotional intelligence – making it a more tangible asset than it was 20 years ago.
Most of the metrics available deal with managers, but occupational psychologists ASE, working with Professor Victor Dulewicz at Henley Management College, are in the process of drawing up a measure for the general population. It will cover technical, professional, supervisory and administrative staff and will be a tool for development purposes rather than recruitment.
Dulewicz believes it is the first such measurement in the UK and probably within Europe.
It is a significant step forward in the battle to understand and become emotionally intelligent organisations.
If organisations understand where they are they can presumably work out where they want to be and perhaps how to get there.
Tim Sparrow warns that it is not an overnight process. Yes, there are courses that can impart some of the skills associated with EQ such as listening, communication and so forth.
But the essence of EQ – understanding yourself and others – has a lot to do with straightforward maturity. "It’s not just about skills, but about attitudes and beliefs," he says. And it can take several years of hard graft for a firm to turn these around.
Further, Sparrow says, any training team looking seriously at how to raise the EQ of the workforce, even of managers, have to understand the huge implications for other HR systems.
"If we want a workforce that is emotionally intelligent, then, just like Brighton rock, the writing has to go right the way through. Performance management, competence framework, reward systems will all need changing," Sparrow says.
Finally, firms have to be careful that by going down the emotional intelligence route they are not, as Chrissie Wright puts it, "seducing workers into a false sense of wellbeing". Everyone knows that what counts in business today is shareholder value.
EQ solves police profile problem
It came as no surprise to Thelma Ayre, recruitment and selection manager at Lancashire Constabulary, to discover that her police officer colleagues have a higher than average emotional intelligence.
"But what is really great is that now we can prove our police force has a caring side," she says.
The research looked at a group of police constables working towards promotion to sergeant. It compared the personality profiles of those who got through and those who didn’t and found the successful officers had higher EQ scores than the average UK manager or professional.
More importantly it provides evidence that the massive change management programme the constabulary has been driving forward over the past couple of years is bearing fruit.
It’s called problem-oriented policing and involves moving from a reactive approach – catching criminals after the event – to a proactive approach – understanding why crimes have happened and involving the community in dealing with crime.
The project has involved some intensive job analysis research for all levels of the police force from probationers right up to assistant chief constables.
Ayre and her colleagues looked at each of these roles to see what they demanded.
Perhaps not surprisingly, they found that policing requires a great deal of both self-awareness and empathy.
"Police officers have to deal with very volatile situations and the key factor is their ability to deal with people," Ayre says.
"They witness the seamier side of life so they have to be resilient too. All of which require a high level of EQ."
There is as yet no national competence framework for police officers. So based on its own job analysis, Lancashire Constabulary has drawn up its own list of competencies for police officers.
Now Ayre and her colleagues have the evidence that successful police officers need a high EQ, the next step is to work out how to develop that emotional quota.
"To a certain extent, they have to develop it because of the work they do, dealing with bereavement, violence, personal danger," she says.
It is unlikely that the constabulary will look at any formal training courses for EQ.
For now it is looking at other existing training and development methods such as feedback from promotion boards, combined with mentoring, coaching and buddying schemes.
A short guide to EQ
- 10 years ago, US academics Peter Salovey and John Meyer coined the phrase emotional intelligence to describe a range of personal, emotional social abilities that they were trying to measure.
- At the same time, another US academic Howard Gardner developed theory of multiple intelligences. These were logical, linguistic, musical, spatial, kinaesthetic, intrapersonal and interpersonal.
- US psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman put these two together and developed his own theory of EQ.
- Since then a variety of arrangements on a theme have been put forward including spiritual intelligence, emotional capital and change intelligence.