It’s just emotion, taking HR over

Emotional intelligence isn’t cuddles and cries: it’s the road to greater productivity and a stronger team, and it could well be under-rated

When FedEx recognized that their manager training needed improvement in the early 2000s, somebody suggested focusing on emotional intelligence. The senior vice president scoffed.

“He said ‘We don’t want any emotional crying and stuff at work’,” said Jimmy Daniel, who had been experimenting with emotional intelligence training at the time. But he understood where his boss was coming from; it was exactly how Daniel felt when he first stumbled across the concept of emotional intelligence as an operations manager.

“When I started doing it (emotional intelligence training), my heart was not in it,” said Daniel, who ended up completely revamping the way FedEx trained leaders across the globe. “I didn’t want to hear the word emotion. I thought it was a lot of work and a lot of conversations that didn’t need to be happening.”

But before long, Daniel, who describes himself as a ‘productivity guy’, noticed that simple, caring conversations about employees’ lives were having a dramatic effect on results at work. Supervisors were emailing him to find out what he’d done that had made such a change. It wasn’t long before the entire company spent $1.2million to globally implement what had begun as a pilot project in a single Latin American office.

The leaders who had previously told staff to check their emotions at the door when they got to work were now being trained to use them to the company’s advantage. “It’s not about hugging, but about doing the right thing at the right time and getting the right results,” said Daniel.

FedEx isn’t alone in its efforts to improve this intangible quality in its leaders. PepsiCo studied emotional intelligence in its executives, and those who had it were noted to generate 10% more productivity, adding nearly $4million in economic value. The hotel chain Sheraton attributed a 24% growth in market share in part to an emotional intelligence initiative. And Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said it’s a quality he searches for in new hires: “I think for leadership positions, emotional intelligence is more important than cognitive intelligence.”

Daniel now works with nonprofit Six Seconds to coach leaders to be emotionally intelligent, and he estimated that it would cost a company upwards of $2000 per person to get managers certified to properly train others in emotional skills. But whether you do in-house training or outsourcing, he offered some key things to remember about emotional intelligence training:

Forget about the poor performers The staff with the most potential lie in the middle, not among the low liers. Daniel said not to waste time training the staff who are seriously struggling, saying they will lead themselves out eventually. “Most leaders spend 80-90% of their time with the bottom 10% of their workgroup,” he said, “and that’s a waste because the majority of your work group lies in the middle.”

Follow up after training Learned social patterns and personal habits take a long time to change, and a few days of training are pointless without sufficient follow-up. “It’s just like anything else: if you play sport you have to practice, so if you’re going to be good at leadership you have to practice,” said Daniel.

Expect resistance from older staff While baby boomers remain in the workforce, Daniel expects that there will still be people who misunderstand emotional intelligence and the value it creates. “The people that resist emotional intelligence the most are the baby boomers because it has a negative connotation,” he said, “but your younger work group wants nice people in the room.”

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