Do Emotions Matter at Work?

Which is more important, systems or emotion?

Recently, I was working with the senior team of a mid-size firm that was struggling.  They wanted to stand out, but they were often regarded as a transactional non-differentiated organization.  Their processes needed improvement.  Worked bogged down in various places inside the organization.  Not surprisingly, morale was also an issue.

Several of the senior leaders were reluctant to address the emotional issues.  One went so far as to say, “The soft stuff is secondary, we need to solve the systems problems first.”

It’s a typical response.  Leaders often underestimate the impact emotions have on their business results.  Many prefer to stay in the safe land of logical problems with logical solutions.

But it never works in the long term.   Logic makes you think; emotions make you act. If you want people to start acting differently you must address the emotional issues.

In any organization, processes and emotions run on parallel, interconnected tracks. They both affect each other.  The challenge is, while systems and processes are easier to understand than unpacking layers of emotional issues, the emotional issues will sabotage the systems if they are left unchecked.

Efficient systems alone will not create an exceptional organization.  How many times have you been in a restaurant or hotel that ran efficiently, but was completely forgettable?  In a similar vein, have you ever worked somewhere that operated efficiently yet the employees were still absolutely miserable?

Effective processes and systems make an organization functional.  To make an organizational exceptional requires emotional engagement.  Said another way, you can’t create passionate customers without passionate people.

In the case of the senior team, my recommendation was to address the systems and the emotional issues in parallel.  The system and process issues were going unsolved because the employees weren’t emotionally engaged enough in the organization’s long-term success.  A little digging revealed, several of the leaders had little to no training or support for managing people issues.  Several managers had reputations as uncaring and downright unkind.  A few were even regarded as bullies.  They got things done, but they left a big emotional wake behind them.

We instituted a culture-building program to teach leaders to emotionally engage their teams.  We also held leaders accountable for the emotional wake they were leaving behind in daily interactions.

When you look behind any exceptional organization, you’ll find people who are intentional about culture.  You can argue all day about how great Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwiches are, but it’s their people who make your experience as a customer so pleasurable.  When the employee standing outside in the heat takes your order with their iPad, or the cashier says, “It’s my pleasure” they smile with their entire face.  Every restaurant is spotless.  These are more than mere checklists items; they’re the result of leaders who know how to engage.

Look at Zappos; they are literally selling the same shoes as their competition. Yet the way they treat their customers differentiates them.  It’s not surprising, they’ve written an entire book on culture.

Even if your organization has a better product than any one else in the market, it’s only a matter of time before your competition catches up.  The only path to sustained differentiation is through your people.  Which leads us right back to leadership.

You can choose to pay attention to the emotions or you can ignore them.  Don’t be surprised if ignoring them only makes things worse.

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