Should You Manage Your Company’s Emotional Culture?

It’s nothing short of amazing how often the same ideas are repackaged and then sold on as something new.

Take the idea that managing change and developing leaders have to somehow go together. This is a classic case of “It has to be A; it has to be B; and then it has to be A and B”.

Any sensible person knows that the best way to effect change in an organization is from both a bottom-up and a top-down approach simultaneously. As Robert Redford reminded us in the film, A Bridge Too Far, the best way to “take a bridge” – to bring about the changes that you want – is from both ends at once.

One reason why it can be difficult to spot the similarities between the old and the “new” is due to the way in which it is expressed. If enough jargon is used, albeit vague, then it may sound entirely plausible. It may even seem to work; but that makes it all the more dangerous as a method.

This can be seen in the idea of managing what is known as the emotional culture of your organization. It sounds very appealing, doesn’t it? And yet, there are a number of problems that you ought to be aware of.

 

Let’s take a look at some of them.

 

Baseline

As with any change programme, there must be a baseline from which to measure progress. You have to know where you’re starting from. You need to know if people feel positive, negative, or somewhere along the continuum between these two extremes.

The difficulty is that our emotions fluctuate. They can change every few minutes, hourly, daily, or over a longer period of time. Gender is not the only thing that can affect how we feel: So can the time of year, our diet, level of fitness, physical illness, stress at work or at home, mental health, and personality type. We only need to think of Eeyore if we have any doubts.

The fact is that our emotions change so much that they are unreliable. You cannot depend on them. We never know how we’re going to feel. Not really.

For example, you can be the most upbeat person in your company, but if you wake up one morning with flu – the real thing, the kind where at first you’re afraid you’re going to die, and then you’re afraid that you won’t – your mood can suddenly change. And the longer you’re that sick, the more it can affect you. Prolonged illness is known to be a great discourager, even among the more robust.

You should never allow yourself to think that you’re invulnerable, because you’re not.

 

Measurement

Because our baseline can vary for so many reasons, it also makes it almost impossible to get reliable measurements of our emotions over time. That’s because we have a number of fluid values interacting almost randomly. Think of the chaos that occurs when dozens of ping pong balls are poured out, and you’ll get the idea. Each one of those balls represents a different factor that influences our emotions.

 

Let’s think about how these things interact with one another.

Suppose you want to discover how people feel at the end of their working day. Maybe you devise a system where they choose from several boxes of coloured tokens, each of which represents a different emotion and have them pitch them into a larger box on the way out the door. Then you have someone in the organization count how many of each colour there are the next day. You repeat this process for a period of time. The idea is that it will tell you what the emotional culture of your organization is.

But will it? Probably not.

 

Why? There are at least four reasons.

1.    One is that some people are upbeat almost without exception, while others are more melancholy. While this mix may not change, their range of emotions will. Those who tend to be positive can skew the results upwards, and those who tend to be negative can skew them downwards; but both won’t necessarily happen the same way two days in a row. You simply can’t predict these things unless there is news that is either exceedingly good or dismal. In other words, it may take an extreme event to get people who have a propensity for being one way to become something other than what they normally are. And if that happens, then you’re not getting an accurate reading in any case.

 

2.    A second reason is that emotionally, we have both long and short memories. What that means is that if we encounter someone we had either a particular positive or difficult experience with in the past, then that can influence our mood on the spot; and if the interaction itself is negative or positive, then according to what we expect that, too, can affect how we feel. It doesn’t have to be something big. If it lifts or depresses our spirits, then on a scale with more than two choices (good vs bad), we are likely to cast our vote according to the most recent experience.

 

3.    A third reason is how we’re treated by our managers. If there is a culture of fear or morale is low, then the results will be untrustworthy. For one thing, people may be afraid to tell you the truth, and so you’ll get more positive tokens than you deserve. It’s also possible that your employees will vote according to what they think you want to hear, whether it’s true or not.

 

4.    There’s a fourth reason and that’s something we call consistency, or what is also known as the halo effect. It’s something that politicians and marketers have known about and used for years. It’s why people are asked to commit to a particular candidate some months before an election. Doing so makes it very hard for people to change their minds later. If they did, then they wouldn’t be being true to themselves. Instead, they would be internally – emotionally, if you prefer – inconsistent. And so each time they drop a token of a particular colour, all they’re really doing is reinforcing their commitment to that token. It may have nothing to do with the veracity of how they feel.

 

And you have to remember that these four reasons are all in the context of those who are trying to be objective. There will also be a percentage of those who will choose something else because they can. They won’t like the system or believe in it, and instead will set out to sabotage the results.

 

How to manage the emotions of employees

If you want to manage the emotions of employees, then you need to help them feel good about themselves. You do this by valuing them; by making sure that they know that they are making an important contribution to your organization.

It’s not about money. It’s true that people like to receive bonuses, especially if they are substantial and unexpected. But what people really want are opportunities to become more valuable to you, to be promoted, and to be recognized by you for the good work that they do. They want to know that you genuinely appreciate them.

When your employees feel good about themselves, then they will be more likely to relax and have fun with those around them; and when they enjoy what they’re doing, then they’ll do a better job.

It’s up to you to make sure that your organization fosters an atmosphere that makes this happen.

 

If you want to work on influencing your organisational culture, then contact me here

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