Applying Soft Skills for Hard Results

e·mo·tion·al in·tel·li·gence  |  noun  |  the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Emotional Intelligence feels like the newest buzz phrase within business organizations. I've heard this term thrown around with little context and little applicability. I've also heard people make a case for why emotional intelligence should be prioritized in the workplace and it is received with a scoff and a brush-off, as if it is a luxury that we don't have time to prioritize over other more realistic initiatives.

There may be a lot of people talking about it, but it is vital to move beyond just talk to practically and methodically apply strategies to train and grow emotional intelligence in every leader and employee. If more organizations applied what they perceive as a "soft-skill," their bottom line would see hard results. 

Let me explain:

A study was conducted by TalentSmart that identified the most important workplace skills and found that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance. They showed that it accounts for 58% of success in jobs in any industry.

They also found that of all of the people they studied, 90% of the top performers tested with high emotional intelligence. On the flip side however, only 20% of bottom performers had high emotional intelligence. 

Lastly, and most interestingly, emotional intelligence levels can be directly tied to the bottom line and to income: 

"Naturally, people with a high degree of emotional intelligence make more money—an average of $29,000 more per year than people with a low degree of emotional intelligence. The link between emotional intelligence and earnings is so direct that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary. These findings hold true for people in all industries, at all levels, in every region of the world. We haven't yet been able to find a job in which performance and pay aren't tied closely to emotional intelligence." – TalentSmart

So, now that you know that by focusing your attention on emotional intelligence it can make tangible results in the workplace, how do you actually pursue this strategy?

Here's a check list of some of the top practices that organizations that prioritize emotional intelligence participate in. How does your organization measure up?

Invest in executive coaching for top leaders. It was John C. Maxwell that stated, "Everything rises and falls on a leader." I cannot stress enough how big of a deal it is for organizations to dedicate budget and time and hold all leaders accountable for growing their own emotional intelligence and leadership. If top leadership doesn't prioritize this, their followers won't either, or else the few employees that do will constantly feel frustrated at seeing avoidable interpersonal issues arise over and over again. The leader sets the tone, so investing in an executive coach to continually push your top leaders will inadvertently set the tone for the whole organization.

Prioritize continual learning experiences and personal development for every employee. Yes, we mean every employee, from entry-level all the way to the top executive. Emotional Intelligence is a skill that can be grown. This is good news! This means any employee at any level can go through a training initiative and be stretched and grown. Having every single person go through annual workshops or sending employees to conferences focusing on personal development is a great way to encourage and prioritize emotional intelligence.

Incorporate a shared language through the use of a personality assessment. One of the best ways to instantly grow both self-understanding and empathy for others (two core components of emotional intelligence) is to incorporate a consistent personality assessment for everyone in your department or organization. This gives everyone a shared language to describe various conflicts or stressors and also takes away the sharp accusing tone as everyone becomes more accepting of their own strengths and weaknesses. At Emergent Performance Solutions, we use Identity Mapping for this process and find that the simplicity of it is a great place to start for an entire organization to get on the same page, but really any assessment can be used. Here a link to help you find the right one for you.

Ruthlessly examine culture. You should be assessing your culture with the same scrutiny given to assessing budget, bottom-line, and hard strategies. The first three items I listed above will inevitably speak to this item, but it bears repeating. A lot of companies give specific attention to hard strategies and budget (as you should), however they assume the "people stuff" (such as employee engagement, communication, building trust, building culture, etc.) will work itself out without management. The same emphasis, reporting, and consideration should be dedicated to culture as the other stuff because it IS culture that drives the other stuff. Employee engagement surveys, culture reporting and assessments, regular employee check-ins and improving institutional listening are a few ways companies can hone on this.

Focus on individual growth. Organizations that prioritize the growth of their employees will see the entire team collectively improve and will most likely see an improvement in the area of trust as well. Does your organization require managers to check-in with employees to set personal goals and to identify areas of growth? One way to do this is adopting a whole-person review process that happens regularly instead of the once-a-year review. In Paul Zak's book, The Trust Factor, he describes a whole-person review as the process of regularly asking your employees three questions: Are you growing professionally? Are you growing personally? Are you growing spiritually? If any of these three are stagnant it could negatively impact work performance. By asking employees to regularly check-in about their whole person, it encourages them to grow their own EQ and answer for their performance holistically, being open and honest about things that might be impacting them.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman identified five elements that make up emotional intelligence. These are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. So much research states that if these attributes are high in leaders and employees it can drastically impact the bottom-line. Additionally, every study I've read on emotional intelligence states that it is something that can be grown and mentored in the majority of people. So, if this skill is essential for successful business and can be improved with some intentionality – what is your business doing to make it happen?

About the Author

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Jessica Beans is a researcher and facilitator specializing in group dynamics, leadership, and change management. She holds an undergraduate degree in public relations and graphic design and a masters degree in organizational leadership with an emphasis in change management and strategic innovation.

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