Organisation culture was described to me many years ago as the alignment between the goals of the company and those of the employee. Close alignment meant strong culture, lack of alignment meant weak. While there is still some truth to this, we now recognise a different perspective of company culture, that it is in fact cognitive culture, being the basis for which employees act and think at work. This determines how team based or competitive they are, their orientation towards high service levels or how customer centric they might be.
Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill, professors at Wharton and George Mason respectively, say that while most organisations make effort to deliberately manage cognitive culture, very few pay enough attention to the management of their organisations emotional culture. Companies and their customers/end users suffer as a consequence. Both academics have spent over ten years researching emotional culture and suggest that “employee satisfaction”, “burnout”, “teamwork” as well as harder measures of financial performance and absenteeism are negatively impacted. The authors cite countless empirical studies that show the significant impact of emotions on how people perform on tasks, how engaged and creative they are, their levels of commitment and how they make decisions. Positive emotions they say are consistently associated with better performance, quality and customer experience. Negative emotions such as anger, fear or sadness often lead to poor performance and higher employee turnover.
Despite widespread understanding of the importance of emotional intelligence in leaders, most organisations seem to ignore emotional culture and many firms shy away from emotions at work. It appears leaders who focus on think/behave factors (cognitive) of their employee’s performance are simply not making the connection to the role of emotion in motivation. Many do not see “emotions” as part of their roles and yet we all know bottling up emotions is not good for anyone. Michael Parke of London Business School believes that organisations whose employees feel comfortable and safe about expressing their emotions are more productive, innovative and creative. He highlights that suppressing emotions or preventing employees from saying what’s on their minds can stop organisations from achieving their goals. His recent research across several businesses in different sectors identified four positive traits found in organisations where people are encouraged to be open and honest about their emotions:
When we look for future leaders in our organisations, we naturally observe the performance of people that work in their teams or projects. Though in general we understand emotional intelligence and the important roles it plays, we rarely seek to observe how much the high potential leader allows others to share their emotions. As emotional culture is determined by how employees conduct themselves, leaders must understand which emotions will help the organisation to grow and recognise those employees who demonstrate or share these.