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How Can Greater Emotional Intelligence Promote Organisational Change?

Emotional Intelligence

MIT Sloan School of Management lecturer, Peter Senge, said “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”

Organisational change is, by its nature, an inside-out process from both an individual and collective standpoint. Failure to realise this is why, according to the Harvard Business Review, 70 percent of all change initiatives fail.

So where exactly are most organisations going wrong?

In order to change, people need to see the benefits of changing themselves. This brings us again to the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace; without the necessary levels of EQ, fear and resistance to change will be rife and initiatives will generally fail.

Following are a few key areas where greater emotional intelligence will promote positive organisational change.

Better conflict management

Conflicts are an inevitable part of human beings working together. Different opinions, perspectives, attitudes, and interests create a potential emotional minefield to navigate; simple misunderstandings and communication breakdowns add to the mix. But it’s how you deal with the situations that inevitably arise that will set your organisation apart.

Conflicts can be left to fester and promote simmering resistance, cliques, and a hostile environment; or you can view them as an important part of a diverse workplace and an opportunity to lay the bedrock for change.

Conflict by its nature triggers stress and emotional responses; we become less rational as the more primitive part of the brain is activated and we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. When the threat of this hangs over teams or entire departments in an organisation, positive change is impossible.

By understanding this and using our emotional intelligence, we better manage these situations, making a positive outcome more likely. Increasing self-awareness and social awareness helps us understand ourselves and others better, leading to a calming rather than escalation of tensions.

Enhanced leadership

Trying to drive top-down change through an organisation often runs into the blockage that we referred to earlier: people resist being changed.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know this. They are aware that enforced change leads to the ‘barriers’ being raised; that change imposed form the outside, where there is no perceived benefit to an individual, activates the fear and stress responses.

General-major style leadership clearly won’t work here; the modern employee expects to be understood and have their needs considered in any change initiative. Leaders need to possess the power to listen to, and empathise with, their employees’ feelings; they need to be able to convey the nature of the change, how it benefits the individual, and to show that the employee is an important part of the change; they are not just expected to ‘do their job’.

Communicated in the right way by an emotionally intelligent leader, change can be motivational and inspiring!

Improved relationships and teamwork

For any organisation, its success will greatly depend on the relationships that form within it. Unhealthy, hostile, conflict-based relationships between individuals, within teams, or between employees and leadership, make it virtually impossible to achieve successful change.

With greater emotional intelligence comes greater trust; people who are self-aware enough to be able to manage and regulate their own behaviour and to better understand the behaviour and feelings of others are more likely to be predictable, stable, consistent, and trustworthy. This leads to greater respect in general, and better relationships developing throughout the organisation.

The positive effect on teamwork should be obvious. Better communication, sharing of ideas, understanding of individual and collective goals, greater trust and respect – these are the foundations of improving collaboration and results among teams.

Lower staff turnover

Nothing screams ‘instability’ more than a revolving door of employees in and out of an organisation. As well as being incredibly expensive, it’s just not conducive to building a culture where positive change is embraced.

A constant flow of new faces in teams, departments, leadership, and so on creates an unstable, ‘Who’s next out of the door?’ mindset that only leads to uncertainty.

Greater emotional intelligence creates a more harmonious workplace that is more likely to meet people’s need for feeling safe, appreciated, and satisfied with coming to work each day. A greater sense of enjoyment in work naturally boosts morale and motivation levels and will raise performance.

This also makes it less likely that an employee will jump ship at the next opportunity. It’s rarely about money… the old saying that ‘money gets you into a job but doesn’t keep you there’ is very true.

Frances Hesselbein said:

“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed – the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”

Carefully planned and deliberate changes to the areas described above slowly bring about the cultural change that many organisations crave. It needn’t be full of threat and turmoil; managed in the right way, positive change can become part of the fabric of an organisation and bring huge benefits over time.

Looking to create positive, people-based change in your organisation and need some assistance? Email me at: ush@collaboratehr.com.au and let’s start a discussion.