Tag: New world of work

Employee Engagement needs Emotional Leadership

Posted on 05/24/12 by Aidan

It was just over five years ago I was talking to corporates about employee engagement and ways to engender it. Some interesting strategies on rewards and remuneration were around and some of the incentive or “points” reward systems were in place. In Ireland in particular, high employment meant getting and securing suitable employees was a challenge.  And keeping them was a high priority especially after training costs and the costs of actually employing them were taken into account. In high turnover industries like call centres – staff would move for the slightest increase in salary and often companies would find themselves hiring back employees who had left –one year later at a much higher hourly rate.

Things have changed. Unemployment is high, savings are low, property is where it is and there is an idea out there that people are happy to “have jobs” and can be treated less well.  Not true. I have noticed that key performers for the Sales and IT functions for example, are often hard to locate in Ireland currently. A number of businesses I work with find these positions hard to fill – with the right people.

While there have been a lot of cutbacks the retained staff in organisations have to do more, have a wider brief (requiring more training and key skills) and own more intellectual capital than heretofore. Assuming that those that are currently engaged are performers it is more critical than ever to keep them and their key skills. Not only is retention required but in this “New Economy” they need to be operating at their full potential in a way that is sustainable and positive. They need to be “Engaged”.

Employee engagement means employees  being involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, who consistently act in ways that further their company’s interests without reward or external motivational factors. Engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organisational culture and contributes directly to shareholder value (the bottom line folks!)

While Engagement is distinctively different, it is driven by satisfaction, motivation and culture – as well as a sense of belonging and being valued. It is about passion, for your job, your team, your brand and what the company is trying to achieve. And passion is more than a number. Passion is an emotion.

To engage employees and get them passionate one must use passion and communicate passion and act passionately. One must communicate on an emotional level with people – because to get them passionate you must connect emotionally. As a leader it’s a considerable advantage to be emotionally intelligent. To engender world class performance you must work with people on an intellectual level and an emotional level. I also think to be at its best there needs to be an instinctual or gut level connection.

The results of using the three levels and particularly the underdeveloped emotional level are been seen as having huge impact in organisations. Being emotionally Intelligent is not about being emotional, but of being able to understand your own and others emotions and act accordingly. Through understanding how you are, how others are, how empathy works and understanding how to communicate with this understanding.

Your key employees can resonate with positive emotions if you lead them in this way. This resonance passes through the organisation like ripples on a pond engaging other employees and customers too after all – they are never more enamoured with your company than your people are.

It starts with Leadership. They are the core. They can be the stones dropped into the still pond to send out ripples of energy, motivation and positivity impacting all your people and your results. To the spreadsheet lovers out there – that’s “leveraging your Human Capital to deliver bottom line results and shareholder value!”

Aidan Higgins

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence Development.

Posted on 01/25/12 by admin

In 2012 it is widely accepted that Emotional Intelligence gives an advantage in the achievement of “success” and is more important than IQ. This is especially true for Leadership and its importance improves the higher up the organisation an individual goes.

From Darwin to the present, most descriptions, definitions and conceptualizations of emotional intelligence have included one or more of the following components:
(a) The ability to recognize, understand and express emotions and feelings.
(b) The ability to understand how others feel and relate with them.
(c) The ability to manage and control emotions.
(d) The ability to manage change, adapt and solve problems of a personal and interpersonal nature.
(e) The ability to generate positive affect and be self-motivated.

Emotional Intelligence is broken down into competences which are categorised by Goleman into Dimensions: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills.

All agree that Emotional Intelligence can be learned and improved. There is debate however, as to how much it can be improved.
Higgs and Dulewicz contend that only some competences can be improved and of these only some by training – the others by experience.
Goleman suggests a different type of training is required. Organizations need to make accessible a mode of learning that is appropriate to the emotional intelligence domain these abilities can be improved. I carried out Academic research on a significant statistical population in 2007 which concluded that Emotional Intelligence can be improved substantially using the correct approach.

As it’s a different part of the brain that needs to be retrained one can’t improve these abilities in the same way that you learn technical expertise. So the appropriate mode is a requirement of successful outcome. Adapting from Goleman, Bytazis & McKee (2002) one can derive a 5 step model:

  • Define who you want to be
  • Define who you are now
  • Define how you get to who you want to be.
  • Plan to make the changes stick.
  • Identify who can help and support you.

My own experience and research contends that Emotional Intelligence can be developed through innovative and specific one to one or group training. The learning is not however like academic learning and revolves around processes which change the way you look at yourself, feel about yourself and engage with the world around you. Aristotle once said “We are what we repeadly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit”. How true!

Aidan Higgins

Empowerment is key

Posted on 10/29/11 by Aidan

I was once on a course at the IMI and my teacher was Prof  Terri Monroe from the University of San Diego. The module was leadership and she took a very intersting couple of days where she was a guide rather than a teacher. This unsettled some who were used to being told what to do next (despite being executive level management) but she was keen to let us evolve the learning and watch the leadership dynamics in the group. So she gave us all the leeway we wanted. I found this new and interesting.

She spoke about her work with the US Navy and how the dymanics of the armed forces had changed considerably from the “Over the Top” mentality of the past to one which recognised that fast decisions and reactions were key to meeting (and hitting) targets. Therefore management was focused on empowerment and leadership on Motivation – from command and control they had moved to enabling decisions to be made where “the rubber meets the road”.

Much is made of empowerment in business where the decisions can be made, where needed, at the coal face  – where your team meet your customers, where the sales are done and revenues generated and where knowledge is gathered about the customer and the environment. In our ever faster moving world the old chain of command idea means bureaucracy, slow response times, and lost opportunities. Empowerment is a critical success factor in the business world.

So I heard a story the other day about my oft quoted All Blacks Rugby team which illustrated it nicely. I often hold that they are the most successful team in the world overall because they all know what they are doing (as opposed to just the coach/captain) and they have an ability to adapt to expose newly discovered weaknesses. In a lot of sports and in some rugby teams there is the autocratic manager with the team plan who is handing out instructions about how the game should be played with all and sundry sticking to this plan until told to change. These changes are sent out via a “waterboy” or “doctors assistant” or shouted from the edge of the pitch or even bored into the players during the half-time break.

The All Blacks have a formidable Manager – Graham Henry –  who from a distance looks like the autocratic type and although he is seperated from his players during the game he does send messengers to and from the pitch. However the story goes that during one of his recent visits with his team to Ireland when the All Blacks won the grand slam (eg very strong and successful team) one of his messengers was corralled during a critical part of the Ireland game and asked what instructions he had sent out. “Oh none mate” came the reply – “I was asked to find out what the players were thinking of doing next“.

Now thats Empowerment.

Aidan Higgins

First Posted August 2009

Re-engineering the Downturn

Posted on 02/09/11 by Aidan

Back in the early nineties I was working with Business Process Re-engineering which is still current today if as part of other systems. It laymans terms it was a way of looking at a process within a company – for example how an invoice is processed – and simplifying it so that it takes less time, includes technology where possible and removes steps from the chain. It leads to efficiencies and better value for money.

Difficulties in implementation include the difficulties in crossing departmental barriers, getting people on board and retraining.  However in competitive adaptable organisations with the will to do so it can be achieved with spectacular results from lower costs, improved adaptability, faster time to market and quicker response to customer demands.

Looking at the Public Sector organisations we have in this country – I wonder has it ever been done. The strong us and them culture that exists, the “change nothin” policy, the slow adaptation of technology, the resistance to all things new (without compensation!) and the lack of will (from the top down) to change the status quo.

With the Political Turmoil at the moment there are a lot of ideas and promises flying around. However loads of glib solutions abound. There are cultural problems as well as organisational problems to be addressed. Cutting jobs is not the whole answer although cutting some is part of the solution. Stretching front-line staff to breaking point by refusing to replace those who leave or are on maternity leave is an idiotic solution.

Culture is first and foremost. You have to win hearts and minds. I wrote before about the Monkeys in a Cage

Researchers started with 4 chimpanzees in a cage (all having a great time I presume screeching, scratching etc) which are left to their own devices to form a group. A bunch of Bananas is then put on the roof of the cage and the chimps, naturally, climb up the cage to get the bananas. After a while the researchers started to hose the cage (and Chimps hate being wet) with water everytime they went for the Bananas. Of course it did not take long for our hairy cousins to figure out that going for the Bananas was a no-no. Being researchers, they then introduced another Chimp who when he saw the bananas immendiately went to get them with the resultant hosing of him and his cellmates. So the next time he went for the Bananas his cellmates stopped him. And this became the norm – every time a new Chimp was added and he went for the bananas the others stopped him. After a while the researchers stopped the hosing and eventually they had a group of Chimps who had never been hosed. And yet still they refused to go for the bananas and stopped any new member going for them either.

Sean Lemass warned after he set up the semi-states that they needed to be monitored closesly lest they become more focused on the interests of their employees than those of the country. Some of our best people are swamped by the culture that pervades parts of our Public Sector. Trying new things and trying to improve the system is frowned upon. Vested interests and power centres block change and will continue to do so while there is so little else there to reward people. Cutting jobs is part of the solution but only part. Cutting inefficiencies is the trick. Leave the systems as the are and cutting a job only leaves another poor soul with twice as much paper in his or her in-tray.  And a bigger bottleneck in the system.

To do this needs a change in culture. A better reward system and a happier more motivated more flexible group of people. Lots of international organisations have achieved this – why not here in Ireland in our Semi-States and public sectors?  Because of the us and them mentality, because top management are often appointed for their political affiliation rather than their abilities, because nobody in power wants to change.  We need more like Willie Walsh at the top. We need to treat our people better, to train them better and to be able to remove them from their jobs (managers especially) if they cannot do their jobs –  nowadays we promote the problem! Legislation exists nowadays to protect people and to keep it fair. So job cutters, budget squeezers everywhere – aim for smarter work, better efficiencies and try to have a bit of imagination! Less of the broad stroke quick fix solutions! And the “us and them crew” try and think of the interests of the country eh?

I once got into an amicable conversation with a man over a pint and we were getting along well and he told me he was the union rep for his sector.  Immediately interested I asked him something like “what are the main problems you see with the restrictions forced on you by the systems and bureaucracy you are forced to operate with”… for which I got a suspicious look followed by “jeasuss – you sound like you one of dem fookin management”.

And so it goes on…

Aidan Higgins

Recession Rubbernecking

Posted on 10/22/10 by Aidan

When I worked in London and drove around that horrid M25 Ring Motorway with about 100 Million other cars there used to be a term you would hear on the radio – “Rubbernecking”.

An accident on the motorway in say the clockwise direction would cause those going anti-clockwise to slow down to see what was going on on the other side. This would cause a ripple effect back through the traffic and cause it to slow and stop leading to incredible delays for up to 50 miles.

A friend of mine – a very intelligent fella called Alan Brown in Brown and Root Vickers, an Engineering Consultant, used to explain it in terms of flow mechanics and to be honest I never quite understood him fully. It was something to do with too much water (traffic) in too small a space and the ripple effect backwards.

I decided to invent the term the other day – “Recession Rubbernecking” – here we are with the help of some of the media rubbernecking at Anglo-Irish Bank, at Nama, at Bond Rates and such and so forth. There are people sitting around turf fires in villages in Ireland happily prepared to discuss Bond Interest Rates and Developer “Hair Cuts” and such. We are all staring at the accident – looking for Carnage.

Well don’t !

The Accident is fascinating. But looking at it and dwelling on it is causing a backlog, a compression which is slowing everyone down and stopping the momentum needed for recovery. Businesses are not selling, banks are not lending, jobs are slow to come back. Because we all have our eye off the road in front of us.  “Lets see how the Anglo numbers affect us first”, now “lets wait for the budget”, now “lets wait to see how the interest rates…..” meanwhile six months have gone by and we are holding our breath and standing still. We need movement folks. We need energy, industry and to get where we need to go.

Turn off the radio, switch the news channel, turn over to the life and sports sections. Look past the headlines. If you do look at one of these articles – do get the facts and draw your own conclusions. Don’t look at the emotive headlines and get caught up.  Then focus on the things you CAN do to make a difference to the things that are important to you, write them down and do them.  Life is about the six inches in front of your face. Getting through this is about being here and now. In the moment if you will.  Right here Right now you have the power to affect the things you can.

Aidan Higgins

Against the Ice the Tiger and the Bear

Posted on 08/23/10 by Aidan

This was sent to me just after I delivered a Management Development Course last week that included the Enneagram. Its from Dr David Daniels who has been to Ireland a number of times and I have been lucky enought to spend a bit of time learning from him. As with most things this former Professor of Psychiatry from Stanford University has a wonderfully clear way of getting to the root of things and explaining them succinctly.

So, Why the Enneagram – By David Daniels

The need is not really for more brains,
The need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people
Than those who won for us
Against the ice, the tiger, and the bear.”

From the Immense Journey by Loren Eisley

This is one of my very favorite quotes. For to me it represents our crucial human need to develop past our earlier levels of being on the planet. We need an expanded appreciation of the positive possibilities for our species. And the Enneagram offers a key way to evolve ourselves into expanded and more inclusive levels of consciousness. For the Enneagram is all about understanding ourselves and others; all about appreciating differences; all about reclaiming a separate self from which we can truly join in union with others; all about opening our hearts to ourselves and others in nonjudgment; and all about reclaiming and integrating in our higher qualities – all representing the work of transformation.

In terms of levels of development simply put we will in the process become more world centric. I have simplified the levels from integral psychology into four basic ones. We can readily understand these.

• Pre-conventional: Impulsive and Self-protective (ego centric). We all know that we can do destructive behaviors when upset. But this impulsive, totally self-referenced level explains why we as a species can so readily kill and pillage others who don’t give us what we want or need. Others are simply objects, basically nothing more.

• Conventional: Conformist (ethno centric). Here we can love those with whom we are identified – our religious group, race, culture, and even team. But we can denounce and even annihilate those who aren’t in our group. They are children of a lesser god so to speak. We all know this from “ethnic cleansing” and the daily news. This explains how mothers (and fathers too) send off their sons into battle for the sake of the church, country or whatever.

• Post-conventional: Self-aware to Autonomous (world centric). Here there is an ability to include diversity, to expand the boundaries of inclusion and see other groups’ point of views. The down side results from belittling the “lesser” levels.

• Non-conventional: Integrated and Unitive (universe centric). This is a rare “species”. This is live beyond ego and ethnic identifications. Very, very few of us have reached this level, certainly less than 1%. Yet it remains a possibility.

The Enneagram work helps us move into the world centric stance thus providing hope for the future for all who embrace it.. I believe this move represents a core value of the various Enneagram schools. It gives hope to Loren Eisley’s words of our need for a more “gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger and the bear.”

Leadership in a Crisis

Posted on 05/31/10 by Aidan

Daniel Goleman explains why Barack O’Bama is so Emotionally Intelligent. Perhaps we would like to see a little more of this in our Leaders. Developing awareness and ability to control emotions is particularly useful in a crisis. Goleman is a thought leader in this area.

Aidan Higgins

Motivate Yourself First

Posted on 10/31/09 by admin


I recently gave a talk before Cavan County Enterprise Boards recent Awards Dinner on the topic of Motivation, with reference to the current economic climate. The reaction to the talk was extremely positive and also the feedback was particularly interesting.

I told the group that there are times I think when we forget the basics and lose ourselves in worry about things we don’t really need. This leads to suffering on a personal level that is not necessary and totally within our own control. Cutbacks and reductions can have an overly negative effect on us if we do not see that often these are necessary to moving forward. Often we attach meaning to things that causes us grief and worry. The way to address this is to sit down and think about what is really necessary at the end of the day and what of those things we worry about  are supports to our Ego rather than to our well-being and happiness.

Entrepeneurs and Small business owners in particular need to remain motivated and optimistic despite the current travails and to influence and motivate those around them as well. Someone once said “Sincerity is the secret – if you can fake that you can achieve anything!”. Well it can’t be faked, the people around you have a good idea whats going on really. So the feeling of motivation has to be real and come from within. Taking action every morning to bring a positive outlook into play by focusing on the positive things in our life can set the mood for the whole day. And bringing it to work influences those around us particularly small business owners.

The folks from Cavan had an interesting perspective. They reckoned the Celtic tiger hadn’t done much for them and so they didn’t miss it. “We never had too much around here anyway” they said and so we don’t miss it either. And this from as chirpy and cheery bunch of people as I’ve met. You know when you see what some have lost in terms of happiness and clarity in their lives its great to see that some have held on to what matters.

Aidan Higgins

Decent Management?

Posted on 06/15/09 by Aidan

Some of the public sector management stories remind me of a something I came across about the battle of Balaclava in 1854. Famous for the charge of the light brigade and “the thin red line” it became a logistical nightmare. While the British soldiers were up to their waists in water and cholera in summer clothes during the Russian winter, eating their own horses and dying by the thousands, the supplies they needed to survive languished in their ships for months – just down the hill from the front line – because the paperwork had not been properly done.

Front line staff  in public sector organisations are in my experience mostly doing their best often with back end management unable to meet their needs – not because there are too few but because there are too many. And I am beginning to believe that most of these poor managers are not aware of their capabilities and how bad they are.  And their managers are not helping by filling in review forms (where reviews are done at all) in a manner which rewards mediocre performance.

Listening to people who work in some areas of the public sector there are stories of mind boggling bureaucracy and failures. Improvements are resisted by a culture where positional power is taken so seriously it becomes the target of management rather than customer service. This leads to interdepartmental barriers, territoriality and lack of joined up thinking. I often wonder how old the process are in these organisations – did they every go through the BPR’s of the 90’s and are we dealing with systems put in place over 50 years ago.

I was at a hospital clinic some time back and as often happens I and about 20 others were kept waiting in the outer area for the consultants to arrive. There was a young woman on the front desk who was constantly getting enquiries about how long people could expect to be waiting. Of course she could not help – willing as she was – because she had not been informed. So she sat there working on her computer while 20 pairs of eyes stared at her and as people got more and more annoyed due to the delay and lack of information. I could feel the stress in the room and I felt quite sorry for her. I happened to sit down beside her and I asked how often it was like this …

“Oh” she said “every clinic”.

I kindly suggested that she should get a privacy screen so she could do her work without all those eyes burning a hole in her head. She confirmed that she had in fact asked for one and it was coming.

“Really?” I asked “when did you order it”.

She replied “3 years ago….”

This is a complex problem overall and will have to be resolved because the inefficiences generated by this culture drain our countries tax revenues at a far greater rate than is recognised I believe.  A little compassion for those who work for you might be a good start.

Aidan Higgins

The All Black Principle

Posted on 12/10/08 by Aidan

All BlacksThe All Black (New Zealand) Rugby team just did a Tour of the Four Home Unions and once again demonstrated their superiority and why they are known as the best team in the world. I think they have a lesson for organisations.

They completely dominated the international Matches against strong opposition and as they often do they pulled away in the second half of the match. They have high levels of fitness, individual skill and motivation but so do the home union teams. So what is it that makes them so superior when all thing seem equal? How does a country of 4 million inhabitants consistently produce the best team in the world when countries like France, England, and Wales have much higher numbers?

I was at a meeting once where Ollie Campbell the Irish outhalf at the time was asked why the Lions had gone down to such a  crushing defeat in New Zealand back in the early 80’s – he talked about pace, fitness, strength, professionalism. I played against the All Blacks myself in 1989 when they were captained by Buck Shelford and that year they completely dominated the International Matches and again it was pace, fitness, strength and professionalism.

Rugby went professional in the 90’s and anyone watching the game now will see players that look less like bar room brawlers and more like comic book heros in shape and fitness. Pace and professionalism have also been added and yet the All Blacks continue to dominate (albeit not winning the world cup – but thats for another post) with a remarkable consistency without those marked advantages of the past. How?

Well my view is their understanding of the game, their ability to change their game plan quickly and their telepathic communication. I often see the other international teams being beaten in the first half and having a good coach who alters the game plan at half time after which they can often come out a different team and win the game. But they have to wait for the coach and if the game changes again they have no access to the coach until the end.

The All Blacks however have a complete understanding of the game and when they sense weakness in the opposition they exploit it there and then. they learn quicly what the opposition are doing, they adapt their game plan quickly and go for the jugular. They are empowered (not hampered) by their coaches, they communicate effectively from 1 to 15 to ensure they work together and they are free to adapt again if or when the opposition adjusts.

Organisations compete for everything, competition is key to success, market entry, exit etc. In the workplace are our people encouraged to learn and do the people in our teams understand the whole game plan? Do they communicate effectively and are they empowered by their managers and leaders to make the moves quickly that are required to succeed? In winning organisations they are.

Aidan Higgins