This first is a story that I heard about 2 women who were both up for and administrative position, and the hiring committee could hardly decide between the candidates. Then someone, desperate for a tie-breaker suggested that they look at the two women’s Linkedin accounts. One of the women had a half-finished account and personal recommendations that described her as competent and hard working. The other woman had glowing recommendations that not only observed her work ethic, but also sang her praises about what a great team member she was, how she brought an infectious optimism to all of her projects, and how sorry co-workers had been when she moved on to her next opportunity. Naturally, they couldn’t wait to make her the offer.
This leads us to the second story, in which I heard about the flip side of “getting the offer”, and this tale points to the advantage, even the need, to be an employer of choice in order to capture such a praiseworthy worker. This story was recounted by a manager at a large facility that had a very mixed history of building an emotionally intelligent workforce, with some valuable initiatives, and an unfortunate amount of lip service. The manager who shared this was highly emotionally intelligent herself, and had been brought in to the department to “turn it around”. So she did some skillful recruiting and got a woman interested in a key job who she knew would be an asset to the department. The interview went very well, and she offered her the position, but the woman wanted to shadow in the department before she accepted, and once she laid eyes on her co-workers, she bowed out.
Leaders who truly valued Emotional Intelligence, and who cared about the department, would have allowed the manager to replace more than one of the positions, and not penalized her if her numbers went down during the re-building phase. Without a “friend at work”, there’s plenty of evidence that people are not motivated to stay long, or in this case, even to sign on initially. Imagine this bright personality coming in to face this triumvirate of long faces who offer a chorus of “we’ve always done it this way”. What might have produced a different outcome, securing this sought after emotionally intelligent hire? Retention specialists might point out that she would have viewed the move more positively if she’d had someone that she’d look forward to see on Monday morning, instead of dreading all weekend coming to work with these difficult people. The manager was definitely someone the woman who got the offer had wanted to work with, but this was not outweighed by the co-worker situation.
By hanging on to dysfunctional workers, the organization had sabotaged a well meant, but bound-to-fail effort to “fix things”. And this last detail is very telling—What sort of solution did the senior leader suggest when he heard his manager’s understandable tale of woe after her efforts failed to recruit this new worker around whom she hoped to re-build the department? He told her not to allow future candidates an opportunity to meet co-workers before they’ve accepted the position. How do you think that worked out? And how long do you think an EI star will stay when their skill set is in demand elsewhere? In a low EI environment, the mediocre worker stays forever, and the high EI person finds it relatively easy to move on.
Emotionally intelligent people want to work with other people of reasonable emotional intelligence, and if an organization has tolerated a preponderance of low EI workers, provided little training in professional behavior, or set low standards for how people behave in meetings or other team situations, they may have to accept that that they have unwittingly created conditions for their best employees to “vote with their feet” and go to a classier organization.
On the positive side there is compelling evidence that people can learn to behave in more emotionally intelligent ways. In fact, we know from research that people who are paying attention grow their EI skills, on average, every decade of life. Organizations can innovate by providing training first for managers, then for all employees, in effective and emotionally intelligent meeting behaviors that promote both productivity and civility. This is one avenue, among many, that makes for a happier, more respectful workplace, and saves companies money by increased retention.
Some smart and creative reinforcement of emotionally intelligent culture that I’ve witnessed includes a company who provided wide spread training in meeting productivity with a follow up activity that the employees told me about with evident satisfaction. The leaders of this initiative opened up a shared document on their internal drive, and invited people to list as many behaviors as they wished to that represented behaviors that they’d like to see at meetings that would make group work more cordial and productive. They gathered hundreds of suggestions for professional and warmly human behaviors, and then went through several rounds of values voting to whittle them down to just as many as would fit on a sheet of paper. Once the voting was finished and there was a general consensus that this was a good thing, everyone signed off on the list, and the signed copy went into people’s files. But what was really EI smart was that the company printed the list of behaviors onto heavy card stock supplied with a stand up back, and they were propped up in every room in the building where meetings might take including the cafeteria! So now people had a visual reminder in the form of colorful signs with positive behaviors on window sills, and in the center of every table, with how we’d like to behave bullet points that the majority of the stakeholders had already agreed with. The folks relating the story told me that now, when someone starts checking phone messages at a meeting since they’ve agreed that inattention was off limits, the facilitator could just make eye contact with the email checker, gesture casually toward the rules sign, and the person would mumble, “Oh, yeah, sorry” and put the phone away!
Now, wouldn’t we all like to see more of that at work!
May your work prosper for the good of all,
Kim Langley, M.Ed.
Send me an invite on linkedin!