By Lisa Harrison
We interviewed Michael Tonkin, General Manager of Maura Fay Learning, about the role of EQ in achieving business outcomes. His enterprise-wide viewpoint reflects on his time leading MFL and prior organisations, and identifies the value of EQ in underpinning good management and leadership skills, which in turn feed measurable gains in organisational metrics.
MFL: Why would organisations be interested in developing their leaders’ EQ?
There’s been a lot of talk about EQ and its role in the success of an organisation, and I think somewhere in the mix, some organisations have possibly confused the concept of EQ with good people management skills. Let’s talk leaders to begin with. If we want to talk about how leaders engage their people and invest in their performance there are a lot of things we could be doing that could engage our teams that don’t necessarily have to have high EQ running through every single one of those conversations. So good people management is more than just EQ.
Having said that, EQ is most certainly a fundamental and wide-reaching component of good people management. If you call IQ the commercial acumen side of a business, and EQ to be all around connecting with people and emotion, there are many businesses across a variety of industries whose success is more underpinned by EQ than by IQ. And many who potentially could be more successful with some energy and effort put into the EQ of their people, especially their leaders. The most effective SLTs are looking for their teams to get a better balance of both. Even the most highly technical fields such as accountants, engineering, science, IT, they’re starting to realise. I think if you ask most CEOs tomorrow what would they want their people to be stronger in – EQ or commerciality – I don’t know how they would choose between the two. Most likely answer would be a combination of both. I think depending on the role and the industry EQ is better developed in some than in others.
MFL: So do those CEOs see a direct link from EQ to the organisation’s metrics?
My experience with ROI and EQ is really clear – employee engagement picks up. If you look at employee engagement and look at all the statistics, 10% increase in sales and 10% increase in productivity are two benchmarks where multiple different research studies have identified those clear gains. And that’s based on people understanding others and working with those differences but also being outcome-driven at the same time. Being able to sit down with a team member and set clear expectations; being able to work with them, not at them or to them; creates that level of team cooperation and collaboration that increases efficiencies.
I also think EQ, ability to read others, to perceive and relate to others, enables you to identify whether you have got the right people in the right seats within a company and within a structure. Equally those who don’t have strong EQ can potentially have people in the wrong roles for a lot longer than they need to and experience the downward spiral of performance that comes with that.
On a daily level, every performance review, feedback, coaching, delegation or informal progress conversation with a team member: if you are able to tap into their motivation, their inspiration, their passion, and can direct that into a tangible business activity or outcome you will immediately see the step up to the next level of performance. My experience is, if you can have those conversations and they mean something, then the level of energy and vigour that people take into their next week or next month is markedly higher. And the only way you can actually have those conversations and have them successfully is using EQ to understand the team and understand the individual and get them to where they need to be. So daily conversations, coaching conversations, done well, have that ability to encourage them to approach every day with an unwavering resolve to get the best out of themselves and each other.
The other thing around productivity that’s interesting, is that EQ done well enables people to cut through the noise to get things done and to do the things that make a difference. And that’s because EQ in a workplace means that there is healthy conversation, robust conversation, a level of trust, a level of comfort to deal with conflict and disagreement, and for it to be interpreted as healthy. So people feel able to voice their opinion more, to openly object, to express potentially unpopular opinions earlier and to influence business strategies and priorities. Leaders with EQ know how to empower their team, and ownership and accountability for results comes from having those relationships in the workplace where there is that trust, and so people are prepared to share the good and the bad.
MFL: What about organisational culture and EQ?
We know culture affects productivity, positivity and retention and I think culture is really enhanced by EQ. No single person owns culture, everybody owns it, and everybody affects it. So EQ will go a long way towards encouraging a healthy workplace: a culture that has people that embrace those around them (metaphorically), people who are prepared to make a positive difference in the lives of their colleagues, a culture where people feel respected and valued. And I think EQ doesn’t have to be the “rah rah” version: it can be somebody who is just quietly, genuinely sincere; is more interested in others than needing to be interesting, as that phrase goes. In fact sometimes you don’t even notice it until that person has left the team or left the business and the hole is much greater than you thought. EQ as a hygiene factor in effect. And of course flexibility in work practices: working hours and conditions, EQ is fundamental to supporting people to be their best by encouraging them to find their best rhythm, balance and approach to wellness. EQ promotes celebration and fun, a chance to stop and reflect. It promotes a deeper level of conversation and questioning which is only good for the organization.
In terms of impact, EQ impacts not only employees and employee engagement, but also customer or client engagement, and that reflects of course in the financials as well. Financials might come through productivity, through efficiency, through an entrepreneurial approach that people take when they’re liberated to look at the world and think more about the enterprise and not just their own backyard. I think that can often come from an organization that’s strong in EQ. So productivity, efficiency, operational performance, profitability, revenue, are some of the hard metrics that are definitely enhanced by EQ in the organisation.
MFL: Do you think all levels of leadership benefit a business if they have highly developed EQ?
I think there’s still some debate – as people become more senior do they actually lose, or not retain, or not require, those high levels of EQ that are helpful when starting off in a career? I believe it’s just as important all the way through the tiers. If I think about the relationship an organization has with and between its senior leaders, it would ultimately define the organisational culture. So if you have a senior leader who is low in EQ, then everybody dances around him or her, and yes, they get things done but progress can be slow and methodical – one step forward after the other; compare that to someone who is able to lead and interact with a level of passion and empathy and understanding. Their organisation will be far, far ahead.
If you have EQ in spades, at all levels, chances are that things around empowering our teams to respond and take responsibility for our customers and clients, and communities if you like, become more and more profound.
This blog is an excerpt from our latest eBook, ‘The Emotional Intelligence Playbook’, which can be downloaded by clicking the link below.