Developing An Emotionally Intelligent Organization

Breaking Down EQ Barriers By Giving Your Organization a Voice

Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time talking with executives about emotional intelligence and the impact it has on results.  One individual whom I would deem as highly emotionally intelligent expressed disappointment in his own executive peer group. During their recent strategy session the dialog was focused on results, structural reasons for results, external market reasons for results, any reason for results that did not require an understanding or accountability for what is really going on internally with employees and effective management within the company.  I remember his words distinctly because they were so descriptive of the problem.  “I work with, and for, some really intelligent people, but it is so disappointing that they lack the emotional intelligence to be honest about what is really going on.  We have a management issue and it starts by nobody wanting to even talk about it.”   He went on to say that because emotional intelligence lacks among top leadership, the problem proliferates at all levels of the organization.  There are great people that can’t express themselves, can’t contribute to their potential because questioning the “reality” is not within the company’s culture.  “Because of this we don’t take the risks we need to take to be great, at any level.”

This conversation got me thinking about an article I wrote back in March, Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: How to Develop Yourself & Your Team.  When a leader develops their EQ they work to create a balance between knowing what they don’t know and that what they do know can be improved…taking action to set the example and develop those skills in others.  But in the situation I laid out for you above, I have to ask, how do you create an emotionally intelligent organization if you are among the leadership, but not the top individual driving it?  Rather than being disappointed and living with the situation, what can you do to overcome a company wide dilemma? – An organization that lacks EQ balance.

The poignant words and observations this senior leader made show that he has a good pulse on the organization.  They also show that the organization lacks that pulse or awareness for themselves.  There is something else lacking…the ability to communicate and teach those observations to others because of the EQ barriers that exist-the inability to admit to something they don’t want to hear.

So what can you do to develop an emotionally intelligent organization, one that looks for and listens to reality so they can collectively act?  The answer lies in the ability to break down EQ barriers by taking emotions and individual opinions out of the equation.

Breaking Down EQ Barriers

Back when I started my marketing career in the early 1990’s I was in a unique position to implement change.  Leveraging technology and information with a specialty in market research, I took on positions that never existed prior to joining each company. My roles were developed based on business need.  Should we integrate these companies, how do we expand our technologies, what parts of the organization make sense to expand geographically, how do we weather this recession, what can we do to stop the bleeding from past investments?…the list goes on.  People, both in executive leadership and throughout the organizations I worked with were cautious with me, and I knew that my opinions were not what they wanted to hear.  They had their own, why listen to me?  So I took a different approach that I continue to use and teach to this day.  Using the collective words of others to get people to listen, acknowledge the reality around them, buy into change and execute a new reality that only exists through systematic teamwork.  Knowledge really is power, especially if you are the one to share the knowledge of others, giving the organization a voice so that everyone can listen…and act in confidence.

How to Give Your Organization a Voice

Most professionals acknowledge the importance of the customer’s voice, but they forget to acknowledge the voice of their own organization.   When you compare the two on the same subject you learn A LOT about the organization’s ability to succeed.  Both voices should dictate how a company acts, where they go next and how they get there.

Here is an example of how this is done well.  I worked with an organization that was an industry leader.  Leadership and employees were confident in what they knew …that they were recognized as the best at what they do.  What they didn’t know was why their market share was falling, or why pricing continued to reduce.  There were alternative technologies emerging with niche players and it was soon determined that this was the cause of what projected to be a business crisis brewing.  The first reaction was to invest in the new technology and out perform the little guys, but the investment was large and the market was in a time of recession.  Did it make sense to start doing something new, the same thing that was already eating the core of their business?  Here’s what they did instead.

We started with a survey of customers asking about different technologies, what their impression was of both current and new options.  We also studied what our customers thought we did well vs our competitors and what we needed to work on.  At the same time we surveyed the entire employee base asking the same questions.  By compiling the differences in perspective, not any one person’s opinion, but the reality of our internal and external environment, the entire organization was interested in hearing the results and in turn collectively realized they needed to be open to change.  That was the first step of this company’s organizational discovery.  By expressing their voice and listening to each other, the entire organization came to understand that what they knew about themselves was no longer their reality.…What happened next was eye opening.

Since organizational awareness was at an all time high, we decided to invite two representatives from every company department and hierarchical level into one room to conduct a process map of how the entire business functioned from the time an order was placed, all the way through to product delivery.  No one left the room until it was completely visual, and, it was an incredibly painful experience for most.  Painful because the chaos in the room represented the chaos of our process.  Again, reality speaks volumes and no one is to blame, nor can anyone escape it once reality is exposed.  Once the process was mapped out everyone knew it needed to be improved and they bought into the changes before we even decided what they needed to be.

Here’s the thing.  Before any of this organizational discovery started, the organization lacked a collective balance between knowing what they don’t know and that what they do know can be improved.  Sure there were pockets of the organization focused on their own areas, and probably successful at achieving their individual goals.  But the organization as a whole was suffering from external & internal factors that were unknown.  Employees did not have a voice, nor was anyone aware that listening was important.  The organization itself lacked Emotional Intelligence.  Once a discovery mechanism was put in place, curiosity to learn more, understand more and improve more, grew; balance was ultimately created and everyone was engaged in building a successful future.

Not every leader exhibits the emotional intelligence necessary to engage their organization to take the risks necessary to be great.  But with the right tools and commitment to uncovering knowledge, an organization can grow emotionally aware of who they collectively are, what they need to do, commit to doing it and making success happen.  It can start at any level, whether you are the CEO or a department leader.  When information is gathered and used to build awareness, the desire to learn overrides the desire to prove a point. Discovery gets everyone focused on building a common understanding and awareness of the business, buy into the future and commit to making changes to ensure overall success.  It is contagious and before you know it, your desire to impact the organization will become contagious too.

Here is Your Challenge

Organizational Discovery can start anywhere, so why not start it within your own department?

  1. Clarify & document the overall goals of the organization.
  2. Clarify & document the goals within your department.
  3. Have a discussion either one-on-one or as a team to discuss each goal and get feedback on if those goals are truly feasible in the eyes of your team.
  4. Define roadblocks the team sees that could prevent each goal from happening.
  5. Develop an action plan with timelines and an assigned leader to head the effort of eliminating each roadblock.
  6. Establish follow-up meetings every month to review progress and evaluate feasibility of overall goals.

This simple exercise will keep objectives at the forefront of your team, identify initial employee engagement in those objectives, and improve likelihood of success. Engagement improves because the effort to work together and include input of the group will be obvious and appreciated.

You can expand your effort to also include the teams or departments your group works with on regular basis.  The more people you share your progress with and include in your improvement plans, the more contagious the discovery effort will become.

Below is a SlideShare presentation on how discovery works on a larger scale.


Organizational Discovery Tools for Business Leaders & Managers from, LLC


Good luck!


Written by Lisa Woods, President Lisa Woods Consulting & Founder of

Lisa is a dynamic business leader & author located in Western New York with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she partners with business leaders to understand their vision, identify internal and external roadblocks, define a practical strategic path forward and guide a successful transformation. This work includes strategy definition & goal setting, organizational design, facilitating team buy-in, establishing visual metrics, internal and external research studies, business feasibility assessments, and investor insight into organizational strength, weakness & strategic opportunity. She helps business leaders drive growth & increase profits.

Strategic Consulting ǀ Management Consulting: Strategy Realized

      Contact Lisa

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