Europe’s perfect storm: Dizzying complexity. Shifting alliances. Tides of stress.
What’s causing this chaos, how does it affect people & organizations – and what demands does this place on leadership?
Europe’s Perfect Storm: How Innovative Companies Thrive in Chaotic Times
Europe’s perfect storm
Rising economic forces are pushing a technology driven, fast paced, and globalized economy. Throw on top of that the economic and political uncertainty caused by Brexit, divisive politicians around the globe, immigration debates and Eurozone bailouts, and… it adds up to a level of stress and uncertainty that’s undermining people. Few organizations are prepared to deal with employees and customers in this state. Even less are set up to thrive in these conditions.
Divisive politicians driving political uncertainty
Unprecedented technological connection skyrocketing stress
Rapid globalization upending industries
Navigating the storm
Thriving “in the storm” requires skills far beyond the technical expertise that companies have long valued. In stormy times, companies with a resilient, adaptable, and emotionally intelligent workforce show a distinct competitive advantage. Employees that can manage stress, take care of themselves, and be innovative are the ones who thrive. Leaders that can create the right context for employees not only to show up, but to feel engaged and passionate – about where they work, who they work with, and who they work for – are the ones whose organizations are thriving.
And that begs the question… What’s the secret to creating that culture?
“Emotional intelligence sits at the foundation of all of this,” says Lara Williams, director of Momentum4, a consulting firm that works with companies throughout Europe. “Stress management, resilience, motivation, creativity, alignment of purpose… these EQ skills are the drivers of a sustainable, thriving workforce – and it’s needed now more than ever.”
Williams spoke with me recently about Europe’s perfect storm and her work with organizations to equip people with the emotional intelligence skills they need to thrive. A growing number of case studies, including several highlighted below, show how companies are successfully making this shift. To hear directly from these companies, tune into the free EQ European Virtual Conference, online on October 11th.
Wake Up Call: Revealing Employee Engagement Survey Spurs Innovation at Large Multinational
How is the “storm” undermining performance, and what’s the solution? Williams says a large multinational corporation she advises is an exemplar of a widespread challenge – and evidence of success. It starts, she says, by confronting an obvious issue: when people are struggling, they are not going to perform at their peak.
Based on feedback from a revealing Employee Engagement Survey, this large multinational (US32b in annual revenue, 75k employees) announced a paradigm shift to address many of the issues reported. They knew they had to invest in employees’ personal development to keep them competitive. As a result, they engaged the services of Momentum4, who worked with the in house L&D function to create an innovative modular based leadership program infused with the skills of emotional intelligence.
This was a bold move, for as Williams reports, “many large businesses engage their people with costly people surveys, where the data that is gathered provides great insights. Too often, however, nothing or very little is actioned as a result of the insights.” At this multinational, however, senior leaders identified the need and, with Momentum4, designed a program to deal with the root of the problem. Williams says the problems they identified are common problems for companies throughout Europe:
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The challenges of a fast paced, technology driven world –
and what that does to employees.
The challenges of political and economic uncertainty –
and what that requires of leadership.
The challenges of a globalized work environment –
and the EQ skills needed by everyone.
Thriving in the storm
These 3 problems combine to make up the “perfect storm” facing Europe. Here’s a deeper look at each problem and some fascinating case studies of innovative companies who are equipped to handle them, and as a result, have turned them into a competitive advantage.
1. Technology Driven, On Demand World Is Drowning People. “The landscape has changed over the past 25 years – and it’s caused a whole new set of problems to emerge,” Williams told me. “With smartphones and laptops, the boundaries of work commitments have changed. From the moment people get up, it’s the constant ping, ping, ping of emails and texts… Employees are expected to be in touch constantly, and this leads to rising stress. It makes people feel overwhelmed. It leads to a loss of purpose and vision because we are constantly responding to these messages throughout the day.” Research shows that this combination of high stress and low wellbeing reduces productivity and leads to absenteeism and burnout. This costs European businesses, such as this large multinational, billions of dollars every year.
It comes down to a simple formula, according to Williams:
“The success and performance of your organization depends upon your employees being at the top of their game. Emotions drive people, and people drive performance.”
But in this new reality of constant connection, is it possible to overcome this tidal wave of stress and change employees’ engagement levels? Consider this case study from Este, Italy.
Este, Italy is the home of a construction plant for Komatsu, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of construction and mining equipment. They utilized Six Seconds’ suite of tools for assessing team climate with alarming results: an overall engagement index score of just 33%. Even worse: only 8% of managers in the “Engaged” category. These scores came from the results of Six Seconds’ Vital Signs Assessment. Employees clearly were not at the top of their game.
In partnership with Six Seconds, Komatsu established an emotional intelligence training program consisting of 30 hours of in person work that led to a dramatic increase in employee engagement at the plant. Managers and employees learned essential skills to communicate and support each other more effectively. On the post-assessment Team Vital Signs, the overall engagement index increased from 33% to 70%. The percentage of people in the “Engaged” category shifted from just over 8% on the pretest to 50% on the post-test. At the same time, the percentage of disengaged employees dropped from 41.6% to 9%, representing a large-scale shift in attitude. Meanwhile, the plant’s efficiency scores improved by 9.4%, demonstrating an important link between increased engagement and the bottom line.
The Este plant’s HR Director, Francesco Blasi, summarized the results this way: “The key lesson is in the approach used. Managers in the project experienced something new, and then, on their own initiative, they started to utilize the method in communicating and managing their employees. This is the real test of any training: Do people start to use what they learned? Now we need to spread this methodology to a wider audience, but certainly it’s clear that things have changed for the better.”
Facing its own dilemma of employee disengagement, this large multinational found the perfect partner in Momentum4, which also utilizes Six Seconds’ assessment tools and methodology for teaching emotional intelligence. In an on demand, technology driven world, programs infused with EQ keep employees – and organizations – performing at peak levels.
2. Instability and Uncertainty Undermines Engagement. More is expected of employees than ever before – and at the same time, they know what they can expect less surely than ever. Uncertainty is endemic. Williams points out a combination of factors: “Brexit, the Euro currency crisis, technological change and tensions over immigration have created an environment in Europe in which people are really afraid and unsure of what the future holds.” And when these legitimate fears are ignored or go unaddressed by leadership, a company’s culture can stagnate. The result? Disengagement, lost productivity, and turnover.
Who wants to work at a company where they do not feel supported or where the whole enterprise seems destined to be swallowed up by more innovative competitors?
The good news: Even if the climate is sour and people are eyeing the exits, change is possible.
Consider this example from the agribusiness giant Amadori. In 2009, they worked with Six Seconds Italy on a pilot project that enrolled 18 managers in a program called Six Seconds’ EQ Certification – Developing Managerial Intelligence. After promising results and high praise for the program, they expanded the system to include over 300 sales coordinators throughout Italy, and the results of this program, to put it mildly, erased any doubts about its viability.
From 2010 to 2016, Amadori witnessed a drastic reduction in the turnover of sales agents whose supervisors went through the emotional intelligence training program, cutting their loss of staff from 40.9% in 2010 to just 11.8% in 2016.
Companies throughout Europe are taking note and following suit.
How does emotional intelligence training actually work? Williams emphasizes there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but one example comes from McCarthy & Stone, a UK company building retirement homes for the elderly. The Managing Director took the SEI, Six Seconds’ emotional intelligence assessment. Based on the assessment and coaching with Williams, he identified two EQ skills that could elevate his leadership and change the culture in his regional office: Increasing Empathy and Pursuing Noble Goals.
Increasing empathy meant making an effort to reach out to his employees more. He started holding regular 1-on-1 meetings with each team member and listening to what they had to say. Based on the feedback, he made a number of concrete changes. He empowered team members to take on more responsibility for their projects. He changed the physical environment people work in to make it more relaxed and open for people to grab a coffee and chat.
Pursuing noble goals meant creating a vision where the outcome is not only monetary but inspiring. The tag line became ‘Would you put your mum in one of our retirement homes?’ This bought back a sense of pride for many and a real sense of purpose in what they do, including the Managing Director. “Based on the feedback his employees have given both him and me,” Lara says, “his leadership style and the overall culture has changed dramatically.”
It’s an increase in people performance like this that creates a thriving culture of engagement and innovation.
3. Globalization Mandates New Skills. The globalization of the economy has reached nearly every corner of the world. Whatever industry you work in, it’s highly likely that you have suppliers, customers, partners and even coworkers from other parts of the world. Can you think of an industry where this isn’t the case? It’s the new reality. And navigating this new reality requires a set of skills to work cross culturally and connect with people who come from different backgrounds and have different expectations. Whether this cultural mixing inhibits or encourages innovation largely comes down to emotional intelligence.
For decades at this large multinational, managers rotated between Tokyo, Japan and offices throughout Europe. And this brought into stark contrast cultural differences in communication and leadership styles. These differences contributed to the alarming results of the employee engagement survey.
To bridge these cultural differences, Momentum4 has recommended utilizing the Leadership Vital Signs, an EQ assessment tool for leaders. Similarly to Williams’ work with McCarty & Stone, she has become a trusted advisor for leaders who are seeking to really connect with employees and create a culture of trust and innovation. In today’s globalized, technology-driven economy, rife with uncertainty, Williams says:
From the Bike to the Boardroom
Williams, who has completed multiple triathlons and an Iron Man, says the emotional component is just as essential to perform on a bike as it is in the boardroom: “It’s everywhere. How I am feeling affects my performance, whether I am training on my bike or presenting to a client. How I am feeling helps determine the outcome. Every type of business or personal challenge, it comes back to emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence sits at the foundation of everything we do…”
To fully understand this perspective of EQ as a key driver of performance, hear it in Williams’ own words, from the EQ World Summit in Dubai:
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