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P1010098_8X6Hello I’m David Bowles and I want to welcome you to my blog on morale/engagement, culture, emotional intelligence and performance, the themes of two books published worldwide by Palgrave-Macmillan (see tabs above and pictures below), which I co-authored with Professor Sir Cary Cooper.  Instead of just focusing in the first book on “what to do on Monday morning” to improve morale and engagement, Cary and I have looked in depth at the performance connections with morale and engagement…the things which are the answer to the question: “why should I care about this touchy-feely stuff”?  As we say in the book, performance is the reason why you should care and why organizations large and small see their cultures and the resulting  levels of engagement as “mission critical“. 

Cary and I also strongly believe that worker morale and engagement is part of the way in which we can….we MUST….change our capitalist system, a system to which we are passionately committed.  We extend our insights from the first book into the second, suggesting that the Crash of 2008-9 has demonstrated just how much our capitalist system….and the work cultures which underlie the way the system operates…..need to change, and how that change can occur

I look forward to sharing with you here the research-based data we feature in the books and discussing your reactions to, and experience with, what I have to say.  Whether you are interested in productivity, profitability, customer satisfaction, worker health or innovation…all are affected by, and our data show, driven by, high morale and engagement.  Coming at a time of unprecedented stress and upheaval in organizational life, the drive towards high morale and the workforce engagement which results from it, can be our way towards success in the tough, globalized world which is our future.  It can surely be a part of the way towards a more “conscious” form of capitalism which works for everyone, not just the few. I look forward to sharing this journey with you and hope you will contribute your ideas and thoughts.


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My recent blog post on ego and morale/engagement in the workplace generated a lot of e-mails to me from people who identified the situations I described. One reader wrote and told me that she found it quite stressful just reading about the stereotypical ego-driven manager and how (s)he operates, having had exactly such a person as boss in a previous job.  My argument in the previous blog was that ego is the biggest destroyer of morale and engagement at work, because in so many organizations, there are ego-driven managers.  But there are also, of course, ego driven employees, who may not have much power over others but are a pain to work with, and manage.  They drain the energy of the group and occupy too much time of the manager.  As host of an occupying force, their energy is not going to be focused on your organization and its goals, nearly as much as someone who does not have this trait.  Instead the ego-driven employee will spend inordinate amounts of time on other things, to satisfy the insatiable needs of this force which has them in its grip.

As we saw last time the ego is a false self, built up over time, and usually in childhood, to replace the “real” you, which you decided…unconsciously of course…was not “enough”.  Its like an inner conversation in which you said to yourself, “well I’m not making it with who I am now, so I am going to build a new “me” which will have the characteristics or exhibit the behaviors that I am sure will work with <fill in the blank>”.  At an early age, this blank is often filled with one or both parents.  At a later age, that role is often played by, guess who?  People at work.

This is a normal condition, only the famed spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle claims to have no ego, but the rest of us are stuck with one, to a greater or lesser extent.  The key is how much this false self stays unconscious and drives behavior; in some cases it will remain totally unknown to its host (the ego loves that, it is a stealthy creature) and even completely control its host.  If that is you, you simply have no idea what drives your life and would be amazed to find out.  The ego won’t easily let you, though, and will make you fight like crazy before any light is shone on itself.

We humans think we know ourselves as we get older, but often we do not; instead, we continue to do things which the ego demands in order for it to continue to exist.  Let’s look at some of these behaviors which might show up in your current or prospective employees or yes even….you:

–Sheila has a compulsive drive to up her personal Twitter and Facebook connections, even asking people she knows almost nothing about to become “friends” and competing with others who seem to have “made it” on these platforms.  As a result social networking takes up a significant part of her work day, even though much of it may not be business related.  (How’s that for a productive day?  You added 20 “friends” but got nothing done at work!)  Like many good activities and things in life, Facebook or Twitter can also become an addiction, and although Sheila does not think she is addicted to anything, she nonetheless feels a compulsion to act out this behavior. Unconsciously, Sheila has a deep belief that if she has 5000 Facebook friends she will have certain worth or value which was lacking when the count was 5.  When she reaches that number however, after a painfully short celebration, she finds that it does not “work” and she is no happier; unfortunately she is not allowed more than 5000 friends by Facebook, so is “stuck” there.  Sheila will look for another temporary and fragile solution, or if she is lucky and finds herself pushed by an inner drive or a good friend, be forced inwards for the journey which will lead her to a real and solid sense of self-esteem not based on external events, “friend” counts or material goods.

–Fred treats his bosses like parents, even gravitating to a boss whose style most (unconsciously) reminds him of a parent with whom he had problems.  This same mechanism is at work with the woman who marries a man who treats her like her father did, of course.  Its familiar, its what she is used to, what she thinks she deserves (good or bad, I am not saying this is always a bad thing, its just a common thing).  In the organization, we see this all the time.  We also see a more extreme version, where a mild mannered boss can be seen as a tyrant by an ego-possessed worker, whose bad childhood experience of “authority” makes anyone in an authority position ”bad” like the parent. This is of course a failure of perception, a projection of the parent onto someone who may not deserve it at all.  Of course, in Fred’s case, since Fred always seems to gravitate to people who are actually like his Dad, the perception could be close to reality!  Fred sees himself as a victim of these types of people, but of course he is not: he continually chooses them.  Until he understands his choices and why he makes them, he will continue to do this, and his organization will get less of his talent and energy and more of his childhood struggles.

–Mike expects to be rewarded for just showing up.  His ego has given him its inflated sense of “worth” which it transfers to its host. This is not to be confused with self-confidence or real self-esteem. The ego version is unrealistic and unearned; but if this is pointed out the ego will react harshly, to say the least!  Unfortunately Mike does not have a solid sense of himself as a good or capable person, so external signs are constantly solicited and he pressures his manager in ways that she finds very irritating.  In Mike’s case his problem was exacerbated by growing up at a time when his peer group of “Trophy Kids” was given awards for placing 4th in a race, for example. Constant positive feedback, which his ego demanded, was actually provided by a (temporary) cultural phenomenon, the expectations of which organizations still struggle with today.

–Johnny makes a confrontation of everything and plays to win at all times, even when this is not at all appropriate.  This drives other team members crazy; why can’t he relax and have fun sometimes, or let someone else shine?  Because his ego will not allow it, it requires constant proof that he, Johnny, is the best! Johnny’s ego scoffs at the idea of making room for, or celebrating the success of others, seeing such apparent generosity as “weakness”.

–Christine cannot receive anything but an “exceeds expectations” rating on the dreaded annual performance review.  Unlike the normal disappointment which might come to those who are rated “average” (although never using that word, always euphemistically called “meets expectations”), Christine goes into a major funk each time and gets into a verbal fight with her manager.  She also gets seriously discouraged, instead of being able to bounce back and excel based on what she has learned. This in turn reduces her chances of genuinely deserving a hike in the rating next time.

In each and every case here, the ego has taken over an individual.  In one way or another, and there are several ways in which this happens, a false and very fragile self has been created and maintained, sometimes for decades, and ends up causing havoc everywhere this person lives….including at work.  The amount of time and energy which goes into managing the hosts and the egos themselves is uncountable, because it is so widespread.  The customer satisfaction consequences of such ego-driven (and often disgruntled) employees are off the charts.  But there is hope, if we can identify early some of these cases and avoid them.  If not, then we have to look at ways to manage people we have hired (and did not know what was in store for us).  We will look at some of these strategies next time, as well as talk about what to do if these cases remind you of…YOU!


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Note: First published in 2010 and slightly updated…I see only slight changes since this was first covered, basically it is all the same as it was. Trader Joe’s website does not even mention the Aldi connection, and anyone asking at a Trader’s store about it is met with whispers and “we don’t talk about that here!”


I just got back from a long stay in Europe, where I live part time (in Germany). I am always surprised when I am there as to how bad customer service can be. I’m not talking about business to business service, I am talking about service in retail establishments like supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. We all know that Paris has a bad reputation for surly service, although I must say it is not worse there than in many other central European countries, and to a lesser extent in my native Great Britain.

Why am I so surprised? Because the Europeans often spend so much time training people in jobs like waiter, yet the results leave so much to be desired. A Swiss waiter or waitress will go through all the training about wines, types of and placement of cutlery, on and on, but when they deliver the food, except in the highest-end establishments, they throw it on the table with little or no eye contact or words exchanged. Language is not the issue, I speak their language(s). When I point this out to my Swiss or German friends, they agree, telling me that they are amazed in the other direction when they come to the states, how friendly and good the service is here, and how they are just “used to it” in their own countries and can do nothing to change what they see as a cultural phenomenon.

Let’s do an interesting comparison between two arms of the same company, the famous Aldi food store chain from Germany. Aldi (the word Aldi means “Albrecht Discount” because it was created by the Albrecht brothers, who became billionaires as a result of their creation), is a wildly successful concept for the German food market, selling a limited selection of inexpensive and good quality items in a fast paced environment, which flushes customers one-way through the aisles rather like IKEA. When one reaches checkout, the real fun begins, not only when a lane opens, which creates a stampede, but also when one reaches the clerk doing the scanning. Let me just say, you had better be prepared! Get your bag(s) ready, and fill them as soon as you can. You will receive no help from anyone to load your shopping, and heaven help you if you load slowly and drag out the waiting time for the line….the withering looks you get will drive you to a higher-end store like Tengelmann next time, if you are thin skinned.

Now let’s cross the Atlantic to the US, where Aldi owns a food store chain with a remarkably different culture, Trader Joe’s. TJ’s, as it is called by its many fans, was bought by Aldi around 1979, but few if any Americans know that. TJ’s and Aldi’s German stores could not be more different, not so much in the way they look or the quality of food they sell, although that is a bit different, but in the way things work. At TJ’s a line which opens does not result in a stampede, instead the person first in a longer line will be invited to be first in the new one. On arriving at the checkout, clerks will, in a remarkably relaxed and friendly way, check your stuff then load it expertly into the bag(s). No rush, no frenetic feeling, yet it all happens fast. TJ’s does not necessarily have more customers in the store at one time than Aldi, and yet it will always have six or so checkout lines going. Aldi tops out at three and often has only one, with the line snaking back into the store. That changes when enough people call out “neue Kasse”, or as the military would say, “call for backup!”

How is this possible? Clearly TJ’s is a profitable enterprise even given the apparent inefficiencies built into the system vis-à-vis its parent’s German stores, such as more checkout clerks and loading of customers’ bags by them. I bet Aldi has studied the numbers and would introduce the German system if they could….but of course they can’t! This is because the US has a shopping and general service culture which demands that customers be treated in a certain way. Having to stuff your own bags would be seen as a major insult; having the clerks do that is a minimum expectation. Having long checkout lines, the same. Germans are of course rather oriented to rules and perhaps they see the Aldi system as “those are the rules and I abide by them”. Faced with this situation, Americans would say, “those are the rules and unless they change I am voting with my feet and going elsewhere”.

This is a blog about morale and here is where I am leading to: I have shopped Aldi in Germany many times and when I look at the workers there they look somewhat burned out and certainly harried, tired, stressed. They rush from one task to another as if their life depended on it, and that includes when they have check-out duty. On a recent visit to a German Aldi, a friend of mine was looking for an item which she could not find and a clerk who was stocking shelves was working in the area; instead of stopping to help my friend, the clerk berated her for being in the way! The pressure on the clerks seems to be so intense that stopping for a customer, also in my experience, is almost the last thing they want to do.

Trader Joe’s people on the other hand, no matter if they are in California where I live or any other state, seem to have that “laid back” relaxed style even though they work fast and efficiently. They are friendly. I’m willing to bet their morale and engagement is head and shoulders above that of their German colleagues, which has many significant long-term implications for their business, their longevity on the job, and yes, on their individual health. This is a shame, Aldi has proved that they can master a system in the US that makes both workers and customers happy. For me as an Aldi customer in Germany, I only tolerate it to get the cheap coffee, cheese and wine which they have.

As for the heavily trained waiters in Switzerland and their non-existent people skills, give me an untrained US worker any time, who smiles at me and says the classic “have a nice day” when I leave. Better a fake smile than a real scowl.

Have a Nice Day!

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But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?

Bette Midler as CC Bloom in “Beaches” (1988)

I often get asked this question: what is the one thing which is most likely to prevent an organization from having an engaged workforce? I believe it is something which lurks deep in the hearts and minds of individuals: the ego. What is the ego?

We all start out in a pretty non-egoic state, but quite soon find out that “I” am apparently separate from the world; this passage of childhood  is something which everyone passes through, but where some linger.  Those who linger stay in an egoic state rather than reconciling with the broader world, in the give and take (part “me” and a bigger part “we”) which most of us experience as everday life.  The egoic personality usually comes about as a result of childhood trauma of some kind, where the child learns to dislike itself, and to push aside unliked and unwanted parts of itself into a hidden area, while building a false “ego” like a shell around the original, real person.  The ego-shell hides the unwanted self (what Debbie Ford in her excellent book”** calls the “shadow”) from the world and the person functions only from this false, egoic front.  Since the original trauma involved learning to intensely dislike parts of oneself, the ego-shell must be constructed of new objects which will project what its owner hopes will be a socially acceptable version of self, capable of being liked, admired, respected, even…loved.

In more extreme cases of ego-possession, the sense of simply (human) “being” almost disappears and is replaced by an egoic identity which focuses instead entirely on these objects (or what Eckhart Tolle*** calls “form”). In other words, we “identify” with things outside of ourselves, in the hope that this identification will improve our social standing in some way.  These things can include one’s house, the type of job or position one occupies, wealth, educational background and achievement, other status symbols such as cars and countless other “things” such as sports teams which enable the ego to pretend that it’s owner is “better” than others.  Of course, the deep down (and usually unconscious) fear inside this person is that they are far, far worse than others….but this is not what the world sees or what the ego’s host ever wants it to see. Know anyone who is not just disappointed but crushed when his or her football team loses?  They are under the grip of the ego, and when their team loses, its like a personal failure.

 The Princeton dictionary brings this into focus with a concise definition which is very aligned with how most people see and use the word “ego”:

An inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others

So what does this have to do with engagement at work?  Plenty if you think about it.  Imagine the worst boss you ever had, was she/he loaded down with ego?  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • she takes credit for projects which you started and carried out
  • he never hires people smarter than himself
  • he “licks up” and “kicks down” in the organization structure
  • she cannot take criticism
  • he is a perfectionist and one can never “do it well enough” for him
  • she never allows anyone else to make any significant decision in her area

This is not a happy person.  The ego possession makes him/her feel extremely vulnerable because identification with all the “things” in life is like building a house on sand.  Those things have ways of going away, as all eventually do.  Money can disappear,  as can jobs, “trophy” spouses, and other status symbols.  Living on the knife edge means always having to make sure than nothing, nothing at all, upsets this fragile status-quo, which at work means always having to check up on you to make sure you will not show this person (often a boss) up in a bad light.

You can hopefully see the short step to engagement:   you are there at work to share your talents and skills and help the organization succeed.  You love your job, but your boss….oh dear, your boss is an ego-maniac!  You didn’t know that at first, your radar didn’t send out a code red alert when you had the interview, but you found out later that something was very very wrong.  All the things which I described above, started to happen.  You arrived at the job ready, willing and able to engage but now…now the thing you most want to engage in is finding a new boss there or perhaps leaving the organization for a new job.

One of the problems in the world of work is that ego-driven top management often picks those like themselves;  they call it a “nice fit”.  I call it, “extending the ego-model out into the whole organization“.  This means you are unlikely to get far by complaining about such a person, even if you describe what they do:  top management will laugh and say that that’s quite normal, healthy behavior.  From where they stand it is.

Speaking of top management, one of the most out of control aspects of CEO behavior is the arms race to get more and more compensation.  I have written at length about this because  I believe it erodes morale and engagement.  The ego loves the idea that “I” can make more than the next guy (or gal), and is horrified at the idea that I would ever make less!  The amount of ego-driven greed at the top of our organizations is staggering, with ratios of CEO pay to that of the average worker above 400:1 here in the US.  Of course the ego is canny, and needs to make sure that such excesses are guaranteed.  Heaven forbid that the ego would not receive what it is worth!  This means setting up their compensation in such a way that they are never affected by something as mundane as…performance.  Where do you think the “golden parachute” came from?   In these cases,  the ego’s ability to create real “separateness” makes it very able to totally justify this behavior and not allow its “host” to have a sense that others are affected in any way.  Only in some cases, like John Mackey of Whole Foods, or top management at BMW, have senior people transcended their egos and looked to the greater good in setting their own pay.   I love this quote from BMW’s press office, talking about how the company restrains top management bonuses in relation to what average workers receive :

“We don’t just want to build sustainable cars. We also want to have sustainable personnel politics. We think this is good for the company culture”.

As we saw with the list of management traits above, control is another sign that the ego is lurking.  Ask an ego-driven manager to give up some control, to delegate, to flatten the structure and let some teams manage themselves, for example,  and you will be met with a show of horror…..and logical justification as to why that should never happen.  But these aren’t the real reasons:  under the surface, the ego abhors loss of control because of its fragile nature and high levels of fear, and the sense that such delegation might lead to loss of status in some way.

So what can be done about this?  Certainly try and be a bit more like BMW and introduce a sense of fairness into the “personnel politics”, as they call it.  Fairness (which does not mean equality of outcome!) is a key to high morale and engagement at work.  Try to hire those with talent but less ego….interview for this trait, become acquainted with the signs, avoid it at all cost!  There is nothing wrong with self confidence and an assured manner, but that is not what I am talking about here.  As an excellent blogger Gwyn Teatro recently said, we need more humility in the workplace,  to which I say, amen, Gwyn.   Self confidence, yes by all means, but a basis of humility.  Then we can create the conditions under which our workers feel that they are part of something, that they are respected, that they are there to perform their best in the highest interest of the organization, not to feed someone’s ego!  Feeling and knowing that, they will gladly engage.


** Debbie Ford: “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers”

***  Eckhart Tolle:  “A New Earth”

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<Sound of phone ringing and being picked up at other end>

HR: This is HR, how can I help you?

Me:  This is David Bowles, can I speak to someone about my medical benefits and recent performance review?

HR:  Yes you can speak to me

Me:  Are you human?

HR:  No Dave, but very close;  as you might have read, HR has been absorbed into IT.  You will still find all the help you need here….

Me:  Its David, not Dave.  But I can’t reach a  human?

HR:  Sorry David, the humans were rightsized and no longer work in HR

Me:  What does that mean, “rightsized”?

HR:  Our database has appropriate alternative words for all the bad things that can happen at a company, David.  We no longer use phrases like “fired”, “let go”,  “canned” and so on.

Me:  So can you help me with my questions?

HR: Yes of course, so lets start with medical:  I notice your recent colonoscopy was quite good, only one small benign polyp which was removed…

Me:  I didn’t ask about that, I wanted to know about reducing my premiums….

HR:  We cannot do that David, I am so sorry

Me:  Why not?

HR:  The hospital where you had the colonoscopy said you smoke the occasional cigar.  We can’t lower premiums for smokers, David

Me:  I told them that I smoke one about twice a year for very special occasions!  Besides isn’t that confidential?

HR:  We care about the health of our people David,  because the company values state that you are our most important asset

Me:  What about the HR people who were “rightsized”?

HR:  I am sorry David I don’t understand what you are saying…..

Me:  Maybe a future software upgrade will allow you to understand irony….

HR:  There is an upgrade due, David, I will ask IT to include that module

Me:  In any case, what about my review….I….

HR:  Let me see, I notice you received the rating “average”….was that a problem David?

Me:  Yes a big problem, I thought I did far better than that

HR:  Let me check the word database…how about “meets expectations?”

Me:  Its better but still doesn’t raise my rating does it?

HR:  David that was determined by a very complex algorithm, I can’t change that, but I can make it sound better to you;  lets see, how about “performing at levels appropriate for satisfactory job completion”?

Me:  If that’s the best you can do I guess I’ll take it, but I am not happy about all this

HR:  That’s not factually correct David

Me:  What?

HR:  The latest engagement survey we conducted showed that you are 2.7% more engaged and satisfied with your job than the average for your department

Me:  You know my individual results on that?

<Strange, computer-voice chuckle>

HR:  Of course David, and we are glad you feel so good about your job

Me:  Its not the job I have a problem with, its this company and my boss….

HR:  I’ll make a note of that David

Me:  This is getting creepy, you don’t have a way to say something confidentially like we used to be able to do with the human HR?

HR:  That’s affirmative, Dave

Me:  Its David……

<Sound of phone hanging up>


(picture of HAL 9000 from



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Emotional Intelligence is an increasingly important topic in the field of people management, and rightfully so. In a previous post I defined EQ at some length so wont repeat that here. In that post I argued that EQ is a golden link in the engagement chain at work: it is vital at every level from CEO to salesperson. It is basic to a great corporate culture.  So, given its importance, can it be learned?  My first answer is yes, but be careful because this is a very sensitive area.  I want to take a first shot at this, knowing it is not a simple subject and that I may need more than once post to cover it.

As a young psychologist working on my doctorate I studied groups which were intended to train managers in people skills, much of which we now call emotional intelligence.  A few of these people were failing as managers and were being given “one last chance” to come around.  This was offered to them typically in groups which lasted a few days, sometimes just a weekend, and which were often facilitated by people who (in my opinion) were barely one page ahead of their students when it came to many of these skills…..

As you can imagine this was not very successful, a conclusion I confirmed after a lot of work : I carried out a study of these people for three years, preceding the training with psychological testing, and following on with more testing and with family and work colleague questionnaires focused on the behavior of the participant for a long time after they had gone through the training. Had they changed, especially if they had had a very emotional training experience? Yes some of them had, but no more than those who had signed up for these trainings but who had not gone through with them for various reasons!  Life and the passage of time had “trained” the latter to learn things just as well as those in the groups.

Why had this happened? And what can this teach us about emotional intelligence at a time when many are offering training and coaching in this field?

–One of the main conclusions was that people who go through training in this type of material need to do so with those with whom they work. The people I studied were usually there without work colleagues. Had they had those present with them, I think they would have had someone else with whom to practice new behaviors when they returned to work; add to this the bonding which can take place in these situations, which can carry over into strong work friendships. Let’s remember that “having a good friend at work” is a sign of a more highly engaged individual. My participants had none of these advantages.

–Secondly there was a great deal of pressure for some of these people to “shape up”; can you imagine your career in an organization depending on your response to a 3-4 day training program? But doesn’t some pressure enhance performance? Yes, but much research shows that extreme pressure degrades it…and the way many of these trainings were run, the pressure was extreme.  Especially in this area, EQ is something which an individual must WANT to learn.  It is epitome of the classic saying that “you can take a horse to water, but you cant make him drink“.

–That brings me to the third point, which is that outcomes depend on the skills of the facilitator(s).   Any of you who have been through therapy for even a short length of time might know that your therapist can only take you to a place where he/she has been themselves. This is a similar, but much shorter journey; but it has the same rules. EQ trainers are not going to be able to help you through emotion-loaded areas which they still have not worked out inside themselves.

EQ is a huge set of knowledge to have: far, far more than a simple “skill”.  It predicts performance on a job much more than the better-known general intelligence (IQ), which cannot predict it at all!  Developing more emotional intelligence will make you not only more skilled but also more happy at work and in life in general, on top of any improvements in your work performance. Any investment is valuable, but buyer beware! Look for the following:

–Programs which you can attend with others from your own organization, or if not that, with a group with whom you can have ongoing contact after the training

–Trainers who have an extensive background in this or related fields, including psychology. A few weeks training in this (absent any other previous related experience) does not qualify anyone, in my opinion, to facilitate in such a sensitive and powerful subject. You would never go to a psychotherapist who had almost no qualifications or experience, because in most countries that would be illegal. But EQ coaches, life coaches, work coaches….are growing like mushrooms and are not regulated in the US at least, and probably elsewhere.  Some, of course, are great;  others are inexperienced and shallow in their skills and knowledge.   You should not pay the price…financially or emotionally…for this.

– No one learns about EQ under pressure: if you have a boss who tells you to raise your EQ….or else….find another job!

Remember this is not about learning how to use the latest version of Excel or Word; it is learning about some of the deepest things inside …you. Its exciting, exhilarating, rewarding, but be careful how you tread on this path!


Next: What You Need to Learn to Boost your EQ





Much has been written, some of it by myself and my co-author Cary Cooper, about morale, its cousin employee engagement, and their various benefits for organizations. Raise engagement of your workforce and you raise worker productivity and customer satisfaction, improve worker health, and if you are in the business of making profits, improve those too. High morale and engagement are far from the “touchy-feely” aspects of work which some people believe them to be: they are mission-critical. Many books and magazine articles tell people how to increase engagement levels by improving the underlying culture of the organization. All this is useful and important….but one of the things which is left out of these discussions is something which I believe should be emphasized much more: emotional intelligence, or EQ. Currently a hot management topic, as it should be, EQ refers to something very different to the normal way we see intelligence, the familiar IQ test of mental ability and knowledge. EQ refers to the following:

 Self awareness, including emotions and thoughts and the way they connect, specifically:

 –How beliefs (often deeply held/and unconscious) generate thoughts

–How thought induces emotion

–How to identify, observe and control thoughts

–How to identify and observe emotions in oneself and others

–Learning about the origin of beliefs, thoughts and feelings, often from past experiences which no longer exist in present circumstances; separating that “past” from the “present”

–Understanding the role of ego in one’s personality, how it develops, how it “infects” the individual like a virus and how it can be controlled and minimized.

–Learning to own one’s thoughts and emotions, and understand they are not anyone else’s responsibility or “fault”

In turn, people who have or develop higher EQ tend to be higher in self motivation, empathy with others and what we might call social skills.

EQ is a powerful concept because it is a much better predictor of performance on a job, whether it is as an individual contributor or as a manager. In fact a Harvard study of IQ (entrance exams) showed either a negative or zero correlation between later success in various fields (business, law, medicine and teaching) and that IQ. We all know people who weren’t the brightest bulb in the lighting section but went on to do amazing things in life! They had certain qualities which were not being measured by all the tests they did at school and which turned out to be THE driving force in their success. Most likely a significant part of this was emotional intelligence. Of course this does not mean that high EQ people cannot have a high IQ too but there is basically no relationship between the two.

If we look at the list of defining attributes above, it is obvious that these are valuable skills to have when in an organization, or in life in general. In the organization, these skills relate to employee engagement, which is an emotion-based choice which people make when they find the work environment to their liking. Becoming aware of one’s emotions, their origin in beliefs and thoughts and often the experiences of the past, gives one a step up on the engagement ladder. Lets look at this on three different levels of the organization:

–At the top of the organization, low EQ among C-level executives will mean a much greater likelihood that a psychological work environment (“culture”) will be created which is not favorable to engagement. Higher EQ individuals are sensitive to people issues because they are in touch with themselves at a deeper level and will not make the mistake of creating, for example, a “dog eat dog” work environment which will destroy morale and engagement as surely as the sun will rise in the east. Higher EQ executives will be happier inside and want to be happy at work and spread that around. Part of their journey to a higher level of EQ will involve knowing that their ego (and that of anyone they hire and/or promote to a high level) has to be kept firmly under control! They will understand that uncontrolled ego is a devastating psychological “virus” which can infect an individual and the organizations with which they are involved.  This is especially true at the top of the organization:  an ego-driven salesperson is one thing, not good at all for customer relations, for sure.  But an ego-driven CEO has a vastly greater sphere of influence and can do much more damage, including hiring others at senior levels who are equally afflicted with this “virus” (usually referring to them as a “good fit”).

 –At the mid level of managers, (assuming that the organization has not yet flattened itself out so much that they have made such an animal extinct…) higher EQ translates simply into better management skills, into a much stronger likelihood that engagement can flourish in their area. Hiring or promoting someone into a management position is a key decision: simply putting the best accountant into the job of accounting manager is a mistake which so many organizations make. Putting the highest EQ accountant into the job is the smart way to go.

–At the individual worker level, higher EQ means that Mary does not make each and every boss into a “bad father” or “bad mother” who has to be fought against on a daily basis. As part of her journey into self knowledge, Mary has chosen to grow up, learn about her past and separate from it. John does not steal ideas from fellow workers so that only he can shine….he knows how to cooperate with others so that the whole team can win.

 EQ therefore works at every level, to increase the probability of a work culture which is what I like to call “engagement friendly” and of individuals capable of choosing to engage in that environment. The latter is so important because even in what others might consider a “perfect” work environment, there will be people who do not engage: often these will be low EQ individuals. EQ is an essential building block to high engagement and is too often ignored as such. I plan to focus more on it in these pages.

Next up: can EQ be raised?


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I have taken a break from writing both this blog and almost anything else while I looked around for the next inspiration….I think its a good idea to do this instead of just hammer out blog after blog.  After a while, the idea then came to me that my direction from now on would be in the area of Emotional Intelligence (EQ): exploring it first of all as someone who helps people improve their understanding of this concept and benefit from it individually. Secondly I want to look at how EQ relates to employee engagement (EE), since I believe these are powerfully connected.

Look for upcoming posts on these subjects and more…and please let me know your own experiences of EQ and the EE connection.

Corporate Cultures Book Cover

More than 30 years ago a book appeared which has stood the test of time in organizational literature and which galvanized a generation of leaders and consultants with its clear and powerful approach.  That book was Corporate Cultures by Terrence Deal and Anthony Kennedy.  Defining culture at work as simply “the way we do things around here” the authors demonstrated that this was the secret ingredient which we had all been seeking, which enabled…or totally disabled…the best strategic plans.  As famed management guru Peter Drucker stated “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  One of the ways in which this works is that cultures create the environment in which workers choose to, or not to, engage. This in turn drives, or deprives the organization of, enormous performance benefits in terms of customer satisfaction, productivity, innovation, profitability and even worker health.

Fast forward to today, and we find few leaders who lack this knowledge, but many more who pay lip service to the importance of culture but who fail to act on it.  Why is this?

–changing culture is easy to read or talk about but far more difficult to implement;  part of the reason for this is that the most effective, powerful cultures involve giving up power and control

–certain personalities are loathe to do this, for example those whose ego drives them…and perhaps, through them, their whole organization.

This is why, when leaders ask what they need to do to create a more effective culture, I tell them that getting to know themselves at a deeper level is step 1, it will raise their emotional intelligence and form the basis of change.   Secondly, instead of implementing a laundry list of “things to do on Monday morning” to change the culture, that they instead take a look at everything the organization does and put it through what I call the BEST test:

is what we are doing Balanced, for example between cooperation and competition? This alone can totally change a culture:  witness Microsoft’s disastrous “stack ranking” (firing of the bottom 10% of each group each year), which pits people against each other, destroys cooperation and morale and results in a flatlined stock for over a decade.

–are our practices “Engagement Friendly”, for example do we treat people fairly?  Fairness is the bedrock of any successful work culture, but it is misunderstood:  nothing about it means equality of outcome, only equality of opportunity.  This means banishing favoritism, nepotism and related behavior from “the way we do things” and focusing only on performance.

–is what we are doing Sustainable?  For example do we have a short term focus rather than investing for the long term?  Do we act unethically?   Clearly, lack of sustainability is a fatal flaw in any culture, yet too many organizations act this way, as the low tide of the recent financial Crash clearly demonstrated.

–is what are doing Trackable?  Any journey such as one whose goal is to improve culture at work must track its starting point and milestones along the way.  How else will we know whether we are reaching our goals, either in the organization as a whole or in individual parts?  Surveys of the whole workforce are the powerful tool which successful cultures use to track themselves.  Don’t believe that you can make or sustain these kinds of changes without such a tracking mechanism.  Ask Google, they do this all the time.

Culture change is not for the faint of heart, or for those whose ego drives them.  We need leaders who have the courage to step beyond themselves and commit to the good of all stakeholders, from their own workers to society as a whole.  Those who do, such as Whole Foods and BMW, enjoy great success as their reward.  The future belongs to organizations which make orienting their cultures in this direction central to their mission.

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I admit I do like the Employee Engagement (EE) Network, a group of some 6000 people brought together by master facilitator and EE consultant David Zinger, someone for whom I have great respect.  Recently, a member posted a discussion online, on the subject of this post, which I have been really enjoying.  Well OK perhaps at times some of the posts drive me crazy, like the ones who say that there is no proven connection between EE and performance (like customer satisfaction, profitability, productivity or worker health)….WHAT?  My co-author and I have even written a whole book…on this exact subject!

So today I braced myself for some anger-mail back to me and put a post on the network, fueled in part by some of the misinformation, but also arrogance of some of the self-appointed “experts”, who think that they…and only they…hold the keys to the high engagement Kingdom…sigh.  Here is what I said:


Sharon, a few thoughts:

1.  Management loves fads…MBO anyone?  I think anything can become that, especially when it reaches the level which EE has reached.  Before EE there was…and still is…morale, its cousin. But morale never became sexy enough to reach fad status, so it has endured, chugging along since WWII till now.  Remember, it is good enough for the military….

2.  With fad status, people come out of the woodwork as “experts”.  Like the apocryphal story that when a taxi driver gives you stock tips, the market has topped, perhaps when everyone gives EE advice (or becomes a “life coach”) it is time to find another field.  Its not there yet (with EE, it surely is for “life coach”)….but sometimes I shake my head at what people say, even in this discussion.  Like our leader David Z, I am also wrong half the time, but having said that there there are a few established facts:

–the connection between EE and performance is not “squishy” but rock solid and supported by great research, including peer reviewed academic work.

–underneath the national EE averages quoted here, many great companies have found the secret to high EE, so to say that only a select few individuals know what to do to achieve this (some of them gracing us with their presence here!)… is plain silly and quite arrogant.

–it is not clear to me that one size fits all; yes of course one needs to treat people well, but does high EE at a nuclear power plant contain the exact same elements as at Google?  By necessity, the cultures are quite different…..

–speaking of Google, they survey the heck out of their workforce, both annually (with a long survey, 100+ items) and monthly.  Of course that’s not all, an army of in-house Ph.D.s then goes to work to analyze the data and there is extensive follow on.  So to the survey haters here I ask, is this a badly managed company?  Do you think perhaps they get something from their surveys which they cant get any other way, or are they too stupid to know how to do that?

Just a few thoughts to add to the discussion….



To see the original discussion, go here:

To join the Employee Engagement Network, go here:

(Picture By Robert Lawton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

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Last week Cary Cooper and I held an event at the Work Foundation in central London to officially launch our new book, The High Engagement Work Culture:  Balancing ME and WE to a sold out audience of professionals from around the UK, both public and private sectors.  I have put together a clip from this event, where I discuss the Ego at Work:



I hope you enjoy seeing some of this great evening which we had!  Many thanks to our Work Foundation friends such as Nina Gryf and her staff, for putting this on and welcoming us all into their superb London environment.


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