The meltdown in world economic markets of 2008/9 feels like a long time ago, but it is important not to forget lessons learned. Back then, in the aftermath, as people searched for answers to make sure it never happened again, there were two words often repeated - change culture. If good has come as a result of what happened, then the growing interest in understanding and managing corporate culture is it.
Many more organisations are now asking how they can more effectively align ways of working to achieve their goals, rebuild the trust of their stakeholders and in particular of customers and clients. There seems to be the growing realisation that people power inside organisations is something to be harnessed rather than controlled and as part of that a more forensic discussion about what works and what doesn't is taking place.
Although we like to think we have a working world where people are treated like adults, it is pretty clear we have not - research shows we feel smothered by bureaucracy and procedure, lacking a sense of empowerment and even respect from our organisational leaders. We yearn for an environment where it is not all about what is rational and controlled but one where we can be recognised as a whole person, express ourselves more freely and feel supported to do what is right.
If all this sounds "emotional" then it is. Every culture has emotion - it's the "feeling" part of culture but unfortunately many working environments create a sense of suppression rather than expression and understanding. Today what employees want - particularly millennials - is to have a voice, to be able to share their feelings, for their life outside of work to be openly part of what the organisation values and to work with flexibility and collaboration. No wonder they have been the drivers of the social media revolution because it ticks every one of these boxes!
Building emotional intelligence -EI (sometimes also known as Emotional Quotient EQ) - into cultural understanding and becoming more human is therefore all about creating an environment that recognises the "feeling" element within employee performance. An environment that is emotionally attuned naturally lends itself to individuality - and is an anti-biotic to a one size fits all approach.
Emotions guide everything we do, sometimes irrationally, and so it should not be a surprise that we are more likely to engage in a working environment that feels thoughtful and empathetic - but leaders have to get this. Research has shown that leaders, particularly as they progress up the ladder, have a tendency to become more led by the left side of their brain - to favour and focus in on the executional rather than the emotional - which of course is not necessarily good for culture given that leadership sets the tone. Leaders emphasise the "rational", probably believing that's what helped them up the greasy pole whilst employees are yearning to be understood as the innately emotional creatures that we all are!
The importance of EI in leadership and the fact that women typically bring more of this to the table than men has been talked about for some time. While academics have shown that women have an edge over men when it comes to expressing their emotions and being in tune with those around them, men are better at compartmentalising emotions so an upset in one area does not spill over into another. However cultural management requires a "holistic view" of the ecosystem and the connectivity that drives it.
So what is the answer? There's no doubt in my mind that leadership and organisational EI needs developing - but this is not about a sudden rush to tree-hugging. What's needed is top down and bottom up. Everyone should develop through an organisation with self-awareness - it's the foundation of EI - but if you want to ramp up your own company's emotional quotient yes look to leaders abilities to appreciate their own emotional make up on a day to day basis and to tune into what others are feeling. At the same time employee engagement measurement needs to change - or at the very least be supplemented.
I am not suggesting that employees hit a set of smiley - or not so smiley - face buttons on a day to day basis as they go in and out of work (although there are companies doing that now - too much like rating the security experience in an airport for my liking) but given technology and the ease with which you can create an opportunity for feedback, why shouldn't organisations offer their people the chance to express how they feel "in the moment". Surely if this is increasingly good for the customer why not for employees.