Posts Tagged ‘emotional intelligence’

The Low Carbon Energy Revolution – Solving the Management and Culture Challenge Begins with EQ

Low carbon energy transition This is the second of five posts that focus on the challenges and solutions of the low carbon energy transition. (See first post here.)

The management and culture challenge may be the most important factor to work through before accelerating diversification and transition efforts, according to industry leaders who are driving the energy transition.low carbon energy, decarbonization

Corporate culture is often defined as the collection of shared values, visions, customs, traditions and internal goals that contribute to a company’s uniqueness. Consciously or unconsciously formed by business owners or founders, corporate culture issues can inspire or impede the success of team efforts to reach company goals.

With something as significant as moving from an established fossil fuel company to a low carbon energy business, the basic challenge is how to make fundamental internal changes that will accommodate the new business model in a demanding, highly ambiguous market environment. It’s essentially an entrepreneurial startup with a large number of tenured employees.

Success stories of corporate innovation and incubation in this kind of environment are as rare as a certain mythical rainbow-riding flying horse.

The Harvard Business Review has called it a “two culture problem.” Revenue from existing operations carry the company, which is supported by long term, hardwired organizational systems. The company’s operations are well tuned, there is a referable market history to guide decisions and management goals for stability, efficiency, and consistent incremental growth.

New innovative business groups tend to form cultures on an ad hoc basis that are wholly different from the main company. There is usually no input or forethought into culture creation; the focus is on the product offering and getting it to market. Innovators and risk takers are often hired from outside the company, bringing in a culture that supports operating models that are entrepreneurial at the core. Existing employees transferred into this group will have difficulty adapting this new operating environment, which often ends up in chaos.

That chaos, according to Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli, happens because “there’s only a fine line between entrepreneurship and insubordination.” Depending on your vantage point, what looks like innovation flies in the face of established corporate convention.

Emotional Intelligence Diminishes the Two-Culture Problem

According to Amy Steindler, an emotional intelligence coach for corporations and executives, and President of EQ Insights, emotional intelligence training and coaching are at the heart of successful corporate incubation of a new innovative group. Her perspective on the need for emotional intelligence at the executive and cultural levels for a successful low carbon energy transition comprises the remainder of this post.

Two decades of academic research, much of it found here, suggests that emotional intelligence may be the differentiator between sustainable outperformance and mediocre results, assuming cognitive intelligence (IQ) and industry and technical knowledge are up to speed.

The low carbon transition executives who emerge as industry leaders will be those who recognize the two-culture problem and embrace emotional intelligence as the bridge to change management and to balancing dual cultures operating under the same roof.

Just as emotional intelligence has a role in change management at the team level, it also serves as the foundational skill set for “managing up.”  Executives must engage corporate board members in adopting a significant business model revision while skillfully managing the challenging work of cultural change.  This balancing act will take a measure of emotional intelligence all by itself.  The good news is that as they make the business case for long-term profitability that results from retaining top talent with demonstrable emotional intelligence skills, they will have the support of rigorous academic research and in-depth case studies.

Emotions Provide Essential Data for Integrating Innovative Teams

Executive management has historically had an aversion to the “soft skills” side of emotional intelligence—mindfulness, self-awareness, appropriate emotional expression, empathy and optimism—claiming that they aren’t directly measurable on the balance sheet for which they feel responsible.  This perspective misses a crucial understanding of the role of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

Emotions are data, and the data points that come from practicing emotional intelligence skills are critical elements for success in two key areas: decision-making and stress management.

Neuroscience has shown that “rational” decisions are actually emotional ones.  Even after we’ve gathered every bit of analytical data available, we ultimately solve problems based on preferences.  In other words, we don’t make decisions based strictly on the data.  We make decisions based on how we feel about the data.  Faced with two equally rational choices, we pick the one we feel better about.  Without the ability to tap into our emotional data set, which includes acknowledging our true risk tolerance, and our response to mistakes, we are unable to choose among logically sound alternatives, a syndrome known as “analysis paralysis.”

For an innovation team working with little or no market history or data, decision-making relies on their ability to manage intuitive and emotional data sets.  Understanding which data are relevant requires application of specific emotional intelligence skills that govern reality testing, impulse control, and intuitive problem-solving.

Emotional intelligence skills also underlie an organization’s ability to consistently manage healthy responses to the unpredictable and unavoidable fallout that comes from rapid or continuous change.  New divisions are hotbeds of ambiguity, insecurity, and the inevitable trial-and-error mistake making.  No matter how much leaders know about their industry, they won’t be able to realize their strategic vision without a team that functions well under stress. That stress is amplified in the low carbon energy era, because while the regulatory environment is highly uncertain, market drivers still require that companies make significant long-term decisions now, before a complete set of regulations are in place.

For well-established companies attempting the transition to 21st (and 22nd) century sustainable energy production, hiring experienced executives who also model emotional intelligence (and who make the resources available for ongoing assessments, training, and reinforcement) is the key to long-term success.  Existing executive teams who have become successful without a focus on emotional intelligence or mindful leadership will have to make a choice—experience the discomfort of learning a new paradigm of leadership or lose their competitive edge.

Established industry leaders who exist right now in a comfort zone they’ve earned over decades of hard work may find that innovation has given way to a prosperous status quo that they’re reluctant to tinker with.

Success in the low carbon energy transition will require executive teams to intentionally normalize discomfort in order to spark innovation and demonstrate the flexibility, responsiveness, social responsibility and inspiration necessary to engage millennial and subsequent generations.

Effective transition leaders will recognize that the workforce and emerging leadership of the next several decades respond enthusiastically to leadership they perceive to be handling the pace of change with authenticity, transparency and accessibility.

A Metaphor for Putting Employees FirstLow carbon energy

The transition from fossil fuel-based energy to low carbon sources is a metaphor of modernization that goes beyond production of energy.  Energy producers will have to take into account information that they can’t un-know: just as fossil fuel energy production is not sustainable, neither are the management models that served to build the industry decades ago.  The next generation of workers has witnessed the costs of overwork and burnout by observing their predecessors’ quality of life, and they’re not buying into it.  They’re willing to work, but they’re not willing to sacrifice the most productive years of their lives by working for companies that don’t put social responsibility and the well-being of their employees first.

How can executives lead the cultural transition?  By creating a permanent culture of mindfulness-based emotional intelligence, ongoing training, and skillful coaching.  By using the appropriate tools to assess every team member’s emotional intelligence profile, and to understand which combinations of skills are the best predictors of success for a given role on a given team.  By engaging an experienced coach or consultant to model these skills and to guide them in developing their own.  By committing to change management practices that are inclusive and flexible enough to withstand the constant adjustments to new information as it arises.

The executives who will rise to the top as leaders of the low carbon energy transition are the ones who are willing to commit to fresh thinking, curiosity, and the present moment mindfulness that are the hallmarks of innovation and future-focused sustainability.

 

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