Leading Emotional Culture in Organizations

Emotion_Joe-Shlabotnik

Photo Credit: Emotion, by Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series engaging the importance of organizational culture.

I began by engaging Why Organizational Culture Matters (“Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”). In that post, I engaged the questions…

  • What Is Organizational Culture? And,
  • Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?

Based on answers to these questions I concluded that leaders must focus on both smart strategy AND healthy culture in their leadership work.

Next, I presented a case for Engaging the Emotional Side of Organizational Culture, and discussed the following:

  • Why emotional culture matters for organizations, and
  • What leaders can do to positive create and shape a healthy emotional culture.

At the end of that post I noted recommendations from Barsade and O’Neill — three key steps in this process:

  1. “Harness what people already feel”
  2. “Model the emotions you want to cultivate”
  3. “Get people to fake it till they feel it”

At this point I want to take some time to provide additional reflections around these points and encourage you regarding how you can positively shape the emotional culture of your team or organization.

Here are reflections on each of these steps.

What Can Leaders Do about It?

“Harness What People Already Feel”

Because organizational members are already experiencing and exhibiting, this also means that many are likely already exhibiting the desired emotional culture. The key from a leadership and managerial perspective is to “catch” these individuals doing the right thing.

On this point, Ken Blanchard argues that one of the most effective managerial practices is to focus on what employees are doing well—catching them doing the right thing. This practice can be applied to nurturing healthy emotional culture.  One example from the Barsade and O’Neill article was a “kudos board” used in an ICU hospital unit. It was board used to celebrate how the hospital staff embodied the desired emotional culture in their unit and organization.

“Model the Emotions You Want to Cultivate”

In addition to harnessing what people already feel, leaders and managers modeling the emotions they want to cultivate is also vital. Barsade and O’Neill provide the following managerial example:

If you regularly walk into a room smiling with high energy, you’re much more likely to create a culture of joy than if you wear a neutral expression. Your employees will smile back and start to mean it.”

“Get People to Fake It Till They Feel It”

Authenticity is important. But it is important to not only express present feelings, but to nurture other positive and healthy feelings that are productive for employees, customers, organizational constituents, and the organization as a whole. I see the authentic way of talking about this is around the language of aspirational emotional culture.

It is okay to recognize the gap between where individuals are presently and intentionally or strategically working toward the aspirational reality. Both spontaneous and strategic emotional expression is meaningful and valuable.

In many ways, this is what emotional intelligence is all about—the appraisal and expression of emotion. Emotional intelligence begins with recognizing what is happening at the emotional level in ourselves and others, and then responding to and out of these emotions in ways that are healthy and productive.

Social psychologists support the idea that conformity to group emotional expression norms is a common reality in life. Such conformity to emotional norms benefits both the individual and the organization. Based on these realities, Barsade and Olivia O’Neill recommend approaching emotional expression through what they call deep acting. In contrast to surface acting, deep acting may be used in developing long-term solutions: “with this technique, people make a focused effort to feel a certain way, and then suddenly they do.”

Emotional Cultures Do Not Improve
without Focus at All Levels

The above strategies are practical recommendations for how to proactively create and shape a healthy organizational culture in your organization, division, or team. Consistent with the above, it is important to emphasize that no organizational level is exempt from this work—especially top level management and leadership.

On this point, Barsade and O’Neill note:

Just like other aspects of organizational culture, emotional culture should be supported at all levels of the organization. The role of top management is to drive it. …it’s up to senior leaders to establish which emotions will help the organization thrive, model those emotions, and reward others for doing the same.”

Healthy Emotional Culture and You

As with most leadership endeavors, the best place to start is looking in the mirror and seeing what positive steps you can take to influence others around you. Here are a few questions to trigger your thoughts on this topic:

  • As you consider the insights on nurturing a healthy emotional culture in your organization, what can you do in the coming days, weeks, and months to make progress on your organization’s emotional culture?
  • Are there emotions you can express even tomorrow (e.g., nurturing joy through regular smiles)?
  • Are there systems you can set up that provide opportunity for individuals and organizations to better pay attention to the emotional climate and culture in your organization?

For some, this work will be natural and easy. For others, this will be hard work. In either case, healthy organizational culture includes healthy emotional culture. Take time to prioritize the emotional health of your organization’s culture in the coming days.

Engaging the Emotional Side of Organization Culture

_Emotions 02_SeRGioSVoX.jpg

Photo Credit: _Emotions 02, by SeRGioSVox, Flickr

In a recent post I discussed the following theme: Why Organizational Culture Matters. In that post, I engaged the questions…

  • What Is Organizational Culture? And,
  • Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?

Based on answers to these questions I concluded that leaders must focus on both smart strategy AND healthy culture in their leadership work.

The Emotional Side of Organizational Culture

Providing an expanded and clarifying conversation on organizational culture, Barsade and O’Neill argue that while emotions are a vital part of the organizational culture this dimension that is often overlooked.

In their HBR article on the topic, they note that, “most leaders focus on how employees think and behave—but feelings matter just as much.”

Barsade and O’Neill provide additional clarity on this point:

 “Cognitive culture is undeniably important to an organization’s success. But it’s only part of the story. The other critical part is what we call the group’s emotional culture: the shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work and which ones they are better off suppressing.”

Why Is Attention to Emotional Culture Important?

In their article, they note that attending to the emotional culture of an organization involves looking at what motivates employees and learning that which makes organizational members feel excited about their work and feel that the belong to the organization and its mission.

For better or worse, emotions play an important part in the overall organizational culture.  The article highlights that positive emotional culture is not just a good idea, but that emotions impact important employee metrics such as retention, work quality, and employee commitment. In short, “you can see the effects [of emotions] on the bottom line.”

What Can Leaders Do about It?

If emotional culture is important, what can leaders and managers do to help positively shape the emotional culture of their organization?

Get a Handle on the Current Emotional Culture

Barsade and O’Neill argue that it begins with simply getting a handle on the existing emotional culture. Whether through employee surveys, employee engagement apps, or other creative means of gathering relevant data, the starting place is understanding the current emotional culture. In such surveys, it may begin with capture basic emotions such as joy, love, anger, fear, and sadness.

Proactively Create and Shape an Emotional Culture

Once the current emotional culture is identified, it’s time to start thinking about how leaders and managers may take the next steps of creating and shaping a healthy emotional culture in the organization.

Barsade and O’Neill present three key steps in this process:

  1. “Harness what people already feel”
  2. “Model the emotions you want to cultivate”
  3. “Get people to fake it till they feel it”

I will stop here at this point. However, more can be noted about these so I will continue to unpack each of these in the coming post in this series next week.

——————-

For now, consider a few questions:

  • Are you considering the emotional culture of your organization, or are you, as Barsade and O’Neill suggest is the case with many people, only focusing on the cognitive and behavioral dimensions of organizational culture?
  • What steps can you take to gain perspective on the current state of your organization (or team’s) emotional culture?
  • What steps can you take to positively shape the culture of your team or organization in future days?

I’ll pick up more with emotional culture next week.

 

Why Organizational Culture Matters: “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”

Rolled-Eggs_Cascadian-Farm

Photo Credit: Rolled Eggs, by Cascadian Farm, Flickr

What Is Organizational Culture?

Although the language of culture is used frequently, organizational members do not always understand what is meant by the term “organizational culture.”

In his classic book on the subject (Organizational Culture and Leadership), Edgar Schein summarizes organizational culture as the accumulated shared learning of a give group. This shared learning is observed through a variety of organizational realities such as the way people behave, established group norms, and espoused values.

Culture is essentially the organizational air we breathe. Like air, culture is often not seen directly. Rather, it is seen indirectly through how organizational members engage in their work, how they behave, how they embody group norms, and how they live out espoused values.

Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?

Other authors, such as Patrick Lencioni in The Advantage, highlight the vital dimension of culture.

Lencioni argues that organizational health is the greatest opportunity for organizational improvement and competitive advantage. In contrast to what Lencioni refers to as smart business—engaging fundamentals like strategy, marketing, finance, and technology—organizational health is the real place where competitive advantage may shine beyond the first half of the equation of smart business.

These days, especially in the day and age of big data in business, being smart as a organization is not enough. Organizations also need to be healthy—they need to pay attention to their organizational culture.

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”

Expressing Lencioni’s points another way, Peter Drucker put the essence of culture in the following language: “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.”

  1. Does strategy (smart organizational practice) matter? Absolutely!
  2. Is strategy (smart organizational practice) enough? No!
  3. Therefore, what do organizational leaders need to do? Leaders must focus on both smart strategy AND healthy culture

Smart and Healthy

As you think about your organization, are you leading and managing in a way that encourages both smart organizational practice AND healthy organizational culture? What practical steps can you take in the coming weeks to help improve the culture of your organization, division, or team?

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For those interested in reading more on the priority of organizational culture, see the following post entitled: Organizational Culture vs. Organizational Identity