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How to improve EQ in your business


In my preceding 2 blogs I discussed exactly what EQ was and why it is so important in the business world (scratch that, it's so important in the non-business world as well - think how much worse social situations are without it!!).


In this final blog of the series, I want to talk about how exactly you can improve the EQ in your business, in your teams and, even in yourself. All this is drawn from years of Shiageto experience helping others develop this and real examples. Hopefully you find some of this useful but if you have any questions, drop us a line.


Improving EQ across your business


This is what we like to refer to as 'cultural EQ'. We all like to think that the company we work for is a great and that everyday, everything is awesome for all the employees; that the environment is conducive to everyone getting on and feeling like they can deliver their best work. What if I was to tell you that this is very rarely the case, that even the best companies have cultural EQ problems and that it takes continuous work to achieve and maintain good cultural EQ? Many companies are scared to really find out what their cultural EQ is like so just carry on as they are (employee engagement surveys often hide the truth or don't ask the right questions). The really excellent companies are constantly asking themselves these questions and realising that cultural EQ is a fine balance that can tip at any point.


When was the last time you assessed how welcoming your business culture was or assessed if there are any unconscious cultural barriers to success?


Easy examples of where cultural EQ needs improvement are hierarchical organisations. For them their very culture may have helped build initial success but when faced with new challenges, this lack of cultural EQ creates problems where managers are too scared to ask for help and teams are not used to sharing their ideas, thus creating a perfect storm that leaves them floundering. We have worked with many companies like this (you'll be surprised that these aren't just companies from traditional cultures, many are seemingly successful, modern companies) and we only helped them genuinely achieve success once we put in place techniques to begin to break down those barriers (it starts with actually making the business aware that there are these challenges and showing the impact they are having, then putting in place the steps to change these: e.g. working with senior managers to get used to asking their staff their opinions and putting in place suggestion boxes or similar so junior staff would feel more empowered to share ideas).


Two less obvious recent experiences also spring to mind when talking about improving cultural EQ:


i) A well regarded business that regularly scored highly in employee annual surveys wanted to address why their employee churn was suddenly going up. On the surface everything seemed fine but, through conducting independent interviews and a confidential survey, my team were able to help them understand that the business had several hidden cultural barriers that were impacting both these efforts. In a similar way to the hierarchy challenge mentioned above, the fact that the business was so well-regarded made it hard for employees to say when things weren't so good and some structural challenges compounded these. These were difficult to see when ingrained in the middle of the culture but by taking a step back, being able to have frank conversations (by virtue of independence) and presenting the findings in a factual way opened up a new way to see the EQ challenges. This then enabled us to develop process, policy and cultural improvements that would address the problems we had found.


ii) A market leading energy company was having difficulty delivering its new strategy and making the necessary internal transformation that it needed to secure future success. Working with the board, we helped validate their new strategy and then began to identify the key challenges to deliver this. We soon began to realise that because the company's historical culture was built on being amiable, its staff were just not very good at ever saying no. Whilst this meant that everyone worked in good spirits and there was a real buzz about the place, change just never seemed to happen, too many projects were being undertaken and productivity was falling behind. Being able to step back and identify this was a turning point for the business as, once we had landed the message with the board, we began to help them introduce techniques and training for how to push back, say no and generally be more assertive when needed. It sounds simple but without this they realised that there was no chance that they could succeed in delivering their new strategy.


You'll notice a common theme to the above is how hard it can be to identify when your own cultural EQ is out of line and how beneficial having someone else have a look can be. Even then, it's not easy; accepting the need to change and then changing cultures can take time. We believe that the best way to do this is by leading from the front, engaging leadership in this change, and by using a combination of techniques and small process changes (such as how you structure meetings, what language you use, what communication channels you use, how visible you make the change, etc). Once you start though, you'll be amazed at the difference that improving cultural EQ will have on your entire business.


Improving EQ in yourself and in your teams


In some ways it may be easier to improve the EQ in individuals than in a whole organisation but in other ways this could be considered harder.


As individuals we often get used to operating in a certain way and don't really like to hear negative feedback about our personal style or approach. But, if you genuinely reflect on the impact you have on others and are self-aware as to what your strengths and weaknesses are when interacting with different team members, you will become better at it. In a similar way, if you step back and look at how well your team interacts with each other, asking is this optimum, you will begin to realise that there is often much that can be improved.


A great way to help individuals, is through a combination of training and role-plays; training in the theory of different styles and the impact they may have in different scenarios and on different personalities, then role-plays to actually try different styles.


We recently helped a global FMCG do this with their procurement teams (who were finding it more difficult dealing with suppliers) and used actors to role-play real-life situations they were having difficulty with. We were amazed at how little they actually considered things from the point of view of the suppliers. This chance to try different ways to have the same conversation, to understand more from the perspective of the suppliers and to try new things in a safe environment was revolutionary for them. Two days of training was enough to set them on the road to much better interaction not just with the suppliers but also amongst themselves and the rest of the business


In another recent experience, we were helping a new team for a large tech company work on developing a new product. What was an exciting environment and really good challenge was proving quite slow and unsuccessful. Part of the problem was that this was completely new territory with new people and this was overwhelming. Realising this, we ran "Getting To Know You" team sessions so as to remove some of the pressure and to accelerate how the team could all empathise with each other. For the sake of a great afternoon, with a mix of frank discussions, training, fun and sharing, we were able to greatly accelerate success within the team.


Again, it sounds simple, but think about it: How often in your teams do you take the time to kick off projects comprehensively, to really get to know each other and to address the question of "where will our emotional challenges be"?


Sometimes, just sometimes, a little external prod and reflection can be worth its weight in gold.

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