EQ: A critical tool for the purpose-driven company

EQ: A critical tool for the purpose-driven company

The concept of emotional intelligence, or EQ, isn’t new. But while many psychological concepts have come and gone in business and organizational development, why has EQ recently re-emerged in hallways, boardrooms, conferences and studies? And what does it have to do with sustainability?

Several recent studies have documented that, more than ever, people today want to know that the companies from which they buy products or services, as well as work for, are dedicated not just to profitability, but also to social and environmental thinking, practice and progress. A recent example illustrating this shift comes from Ethical Corporation’s 2018 Responsible Business Trends survey. More than 1,500 executives from around the world participated in the study, which underscored that people want to know what is happening at the origins of what they buy.

This value shift is occurring at a time of vast technological change, including digitization, artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things and other technologies that stand to transform systems of production, management and governance. In addition, according to Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial Survey, millennials’ "opinions about business’ motivations and ethics, which had trended up the past two years, retreated dramatically in 2018, as did their sense of loyalty." Young people are demanding a new degree of transparency and responsible behavior from businesses and business leaders.

It’s clear that people today want action — words are not enough. It is also clear to many business and sustainability leaders that they need to deliver on the demand of their employees, customers and stakeholders to actively and transparently pursue a purpose-driven culture. What may not be as clear to some is that EQ is at the heart of a purpose-driven culture.

EQ is defined as the organizational capacity to be aware of, control and express emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. According to the American psychologist Daniel Goleman, who helped popularize EQ, it contains five key elements: self-awareness; self-regulation; motivation; empathy; and social skills. The degree to which these elements are apparent (or absent) and practiced within organizations not only significantly defines the health of its culture, but also its readiness for business success in a world that is increasingly demanding transparency and evidence of commitment to purpose.

Without elevated organizational EQ, not only will talent likely seek a more self-aware environment, but employees who do not experience alignment with their values may be unsatisfied at the workplace with limited opportunities for growth, development, achievement and recognition.

For those charged with shaping the culture of an organization — including those responsible for an organization’s environmental and social responsibility — high EQ is a critical pursuit that will lead to maximum team performance and, ultimately, increased productivity and goal achievement. But many such leaders are unsure of how to go about boosting EQ to achieve a truly purpose-driven culture.

Assessing EQ

There are many EQ assessment tool options. Simple surveys can be one of the most effective tools used to assess EQ. They can measure the impact (or lack) of EQ on others inside organizations, and on the organizational culture as a whole.

Human Synergistics International offers leadership and management "impact" assessments, which it has used (along with improvement plans) to transform leaders, teams and cultures globally for more than 40 years. The company’s assessments focus on four critical elements of constructive culture that contribute to effectiveness and productivity: achievement; self-actualization; affiliative; and humanistic-encouraging styles of behavior.

The overall goals when using these tools are to grow constructive behaviors, lessen passive and aggressive behaviors and provide a roadmap for leaders and managers to "see" the impact they are having, not only on their people but also their organization’s mission, culture and productivity. Such feedback provides company leadership with insight into what’s happening inside their organization and sets the stage for active pursuit of constructive behaviors, with greater confidence that this type of effort, if sustained, will improve organizational progress as well as employee satisfaction.

Putting EQ to work today

In future articles, I’ll offer EQ evidence-based examples for good business, as well as share other perspectives and tools including how leaders and influencers are relying upon them to ensure success in the midst of changing conditions for business. For now, I encourage you to try this simple exercise: The next time a colleague says or does something that makes you feel good about them, or yourself, stop and think about what you can say and do to encourage them to replicate this behavior.

The goal is to lead them toward constructive behaviors, such as: taking initiative when opportunities arise and striving for excellence (achievement); pursuing projects and opportunities aligned with their values (self-actualizing); building good personal relationships with others and discussing issues in an open, friendly way (affiliative); and sharing ideas with co-workers to help them improve their performance (humanistic-encouraging).

This may not sound particularly advanced, but if you’re doing it consciously and consistently, your EQ is likely fairly healthy. Just think about how the culture of your organization might improve if such habits were consciously and widely nourished, practiced and rewarded at all levels.  

In a world of changing expectations of companies, and the people who work there, raising EQ can be a simple yet profound practice. Developing this skill set can lead to increased awareness and compassion for others, resulting in improved capabilities for strategy, collaboration and resilience.

Ultimately, business leaders can see more constructive behavior and understanding in relationships as they redesign their organizations, teams, themselves and— last but far from least — their organizational purpose. In other words, self-awareness, and its integration within organizations, is at the foundation of progress.