Achieving a high with EI

by 20 Feb 2007

While many of the harder assessment processes have gained wide acceptance in the HR community, emotional intelligence often struggles in comparison. Melissa Yen looks at the evolution of EI in the workplace and HRs role in its application

While the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has gained much attention over the past few years, there have been many arguments both for and against its use in the workplace. Much of the research on the topic points to the benefits of EI’s use as a tool to understand and assess the soft and interpersonal skills of employees and leaders and how it links to their performance. As such, EI has evolved from a broadly used method of emotional management, creating self awareness among employees, to its specified application in a range of business functions.

Hendrie Weisinger, a psychologist and author in the field of EI, claims companies are seeking to understand the ‘how to’ of EI, rather than wanting a mere lecture on the importance of EI for people in the working world. As a result, he says, one of the key future tasks for HR as the primary drivers of EI within organisations will be to broaden their knowledge and application of EI.

Organisations start to feel

Since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s work, Emotional Intelligence, interest has increased in EI, according to Patrick Farrell, managing director of Caliper. “The concept has always made intuitive sense, as most people could point to a manager or leader who had the ‘people skills’ to get the best out of themselves and other people through the management of the relationship between them.”

As a result, Farrell believes Goleman’s work helped to put a straightforward label on a range of attributes, and created a language that gave credibility to the concept. Assessment tools have been developed that identify EI as a set of attributes, in the manner of a personality test, he says.

“This assesses an individual’s default characteristics and observable behaviours in three key areas –management of self, management of outcomes and relationship management – by integrating a multi-rater feedback assessment into the instrument.”According to Jim Hunter, CEO at Genos, issues of employee retention and employer of choice are front of mind in many corporations. “EI is being seen as an excellent medium to enhance the environment, culture, leadership and team dynamic within an organisation.”

EI is increasingly being applied to organisational level initiatives such as workforce planning, performance management, strategic and cultural change as well as the recruitment process, according to Hunter.

For Weisinger, an important trend has been the realisation that EI concepts and skills are most powerful when they are integrated into the specifics of a job in a particular industry. “When this occurs, the concepts and skills increase in personal relevancy, a crucial factor in getting employees to try new behaviours,” he says.

However, an unfortunate trend has emerged with the obsessive interest in measuring a person’s EI, he adds. “Dozens of people are peddling their EI assessment tools. I would urge HR professionals not to spend money on EI measurement; rather, to spend it on EI development,” he says.

“We already know that everyone can develop their EI and when they do, they become more successful … you cannot use a paper and pencil instrument to measure EI because what you are really doing is getting a cognitive assessment. What people say they would do is very different than what they would do in the reality of the situation.”

The focus for HR on methods that show how a person actually demonstrates their EI, he claims, should become more important.

Good management on the bottom line?

There are many different factors that can impact on the bottom line that have little to do with either EI or good management skills, however, a number of assumptions are being tested, says Farrell.

“There seems to be a lot more support for the idea, however, that higher levels of EI are connected to more effective management performance, which clearly is an important factor in impacting favourably on the bottom line across time.”

Similarly, Hunter points to the existence of research that shows EI is highly correlated to transformational leadership styles, which is known to be considerably more effective. “The challenges of good management relate not to the technical skills but their people management skills.”

However, most of the research linking EI to success and the bottom line is not very good, according to Weisinger. While there are very pure studies in which EI is actually measured, he claims that many researchers tend to belong to the ‘bogus EI group’.

“They have taken studies around self-esteem, listening skills, star performance, and have assumed that this is the same as EI. “I have encountered many bottom line successful people who are not what I would call emotionally intelligent; their marriages or relationships might be terrible, but their bottom line is huge,” he says.

For Weisinger, knowing how to evaluate the effectiveness of EI training is crucial for HR. “The HR department has to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of their EI training – what outcomes are you looking for? Who is doing the training? Are you really teaching EI or just a collection of soft skills?”

Making HR self-aware

Often HR faces the challenge of proving the return on investment for EI initiatives to reluctant managers.

“The champions of the EI concept need to be able to point to people who clearly manage themselves well, manage their relationships well and, most importantly, achieve solid outcomes as a result,” says Farrell. In order to achieve this, he suggests that HR remove any jargon and trace of soft and fluffy language, so that the benefits can be demonstrated in plain and simple language.

While managers can be sceptical about the relevance of EI to their work, EI is a soft skill with hard consequences, says Hunter. Therefore, it is important to not set EI as a focal point when there is resistance for such initiatives. “Identify the business objective and help managers identify common workplace challenges and show how EI can be used to address such challenges. This process ensures strong buy-in from managers as it proves how developing the skills of EI will result in higher employee performance.”

Weisinger also agrees with the specific application of EI. “I would urge HR to think about how they can integrate EI into the specific tasks of the employee’s job. Some EI skills are more important in some job tasks than others.” What EI skills are necessary for what jobs is a good question that can help an organisation use EI to enhance its competitive edge, he says.

For Weisinger, HR people need to know how to interview for EI and what behaviours to look for. “They need to be the gatekeepers and know how to evaluate an EI training program. They need to know who is going to deliver the training – are they simply trainers? Or do they understand the rich theoretical content that allows them to apply EI in creative ways and not just what the manual says. This is much neglected.”

In dealing with a reluctant manager’s anxiety, Weisinger suggests that HR professionals examine their own EI effectiveness. “One situation that almost every HR professional is familiar with is, how do you criticise a person with ‘personal hygiene’ from an EI perspective?” he asks.

“In other words, it is very hard for HR people to develop EI in others and their organisation if their own EI is not high. The problem is, most HR professionals overestimate their EI.”

HR and management should also recognise that ensuring employees are surrounded by those who are high on EI is a valued method of retention, he says. “Organisations that value EI have excellent retention of key employees,” says Weisinger.

Case study in EI

Pharmaceutical company Sanofi-aventis participated in research that looked at the relevance of EI to sales performance. The research showed that EI could positively impact on sales effectiveness particularly in relationship-based selling. "We wanted to use an EI tool that was research-based, validated and had the depth of development methodologies and materials that we could use to get the outcomes we were seeking," says Luke Fitzgerald of Sanofi-aventis.

Genos designed a program that accommodated logistical challenges inherent in such developmental programs spanning several states. The program involved five months of coaching sessions in small groups of sales managers.

Sales representatives went through a development stream of workshops, one-on-one sessions and active mentoring by their managers, Fitzgerald says. All participants completed the Genos EI multi-rater assessment before and after the program. In addition to this, a control group was established to enable comparative data between them and participants in the program.

"To evaluate the program, we measured sales results before and after the implementation of the EI assessment and development programs of the teams. The sales data for each representative was analysed along with each individual's level of EI. This data was then used to compare the control group with the development group," Fitzgerald says.