Why IT needs EQ: The value of emotional intelligence

If you were asked to name the top challenge of today’s IT workforce, what would you say? Being able to navigate big data and analytics? Adapting to changing technology? Knowing how to guard against cyber attacks? All of these technical challenges are real, but they are not what CIOs named as their top IT workforce challenge. Instead, 60 percent of CIOs said the toughest challenge was finding and hiring IT talent with the right mix of technical and soft skills creativity, cognitive flexibility, and emotional intelligence.

In the face of steep business competition and rapid technology change, building emotional intelligence (EQ) in your workforce has become essential if you want your organization to thrive. In this post, we will examine why your IT team needs to develop their EQ and strategies to help build these soft skills, ending on what’s at stake if your team fails to nurture their emotional intelligence.

Why your IT team needs to develop their emotional intelligence

"Twenty years ago, people branded themselves as SAP experts and even focused on a specific module, and that was going to be the focus of their entire IT career. Those days are gone. Today it’s about technology athletes—people who are curious and are always looking to solve business problems through technology.”

Wayne Shurts, EVP and CTO, Sysco Corporation

When you imagine an athlete, you picture someone resilient and agile, a person who’s capable of adapting to changing circumstances. This is who Shurts had in mind when he describes technology athletes—the sort of IT experts who have trained themselves to perform well even under today’s rapidly changing business conditions. Some of the most valuable training to handle uncertainty is EQ training, which develops soft skills like problem solving, creativity, and communication. This kind of soft skills training helped one company increase productivity and retention by 12 percent, delivering a 2.5X return on investment for the EQ training program.

These soft skills are universally valuable because they help your IT department apply technical expertise to softer business problems that benefit your entire organization. Rather than thinking tactically about creating a specific IT service for a specific issue, an emotionally intelligent IT team can think strategically about why a problem exists, innovate a user-friendly application of technology to address that problem, and effectively communicate with other employees in how to make best use of this new solution. In short, an IT team with strong EQ can help your company tackle business uncertainty with a strategy instead of a reaction.

How to develop and boost EQ within your organization

“The good news is that soft skills are learnable. In fact, resilience training experts, who specialize in teaching and training in the soft skills, would go further to say they are foundational to creating strong employees, teams, leaders and organizations.”

Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium

The first step toward improving EQ is wanting to learn how to do so—and your employees are definitely interested in their professional growth. LinkedIn reports nearly three quarters of employees want to learn during their spare time at work. Here are three ways to train EQ in emotional awareness, communication, and a sense of purpose:

  1. Emotional awareness: Ask employees to pay attention to personal stress triggers over a two-week period, writing down when they feel a negative emotion like anger, frustration, or anxiety related to something at work and what caused that feeling. Schedule a workshop at the end of the two weeks where employees can compare notes and share which stress triggers caused which reactions. This helps employees identify how their stress manifests itself emotionally, giving them awareness of where those feelings come from and how to deal with them.
  2. Communication: Show employees that the medium of communication matters as much as the message. Hold a workshop going over common forms of office communication like email, Slack message, face-to-face conversations, and group meetings. As a team, analyze what each kind of communication medium is good for, and the weaknesses of each one (for example, Slack is great for quick questions and answers, but not as good as face-to-face conversations for creating a detailed plan). Then have your workshop split into groups and plan a communication strategy to convey a variety of different ideas, matching the right medium to the right message. 
  3. Sense of Purpose: Using your company mission and values, create a shared purpose for the next month of work. This should be a simple but emotionally meaningful idea that connects to your company’s culture, like “Prioritize honesty and transparency in all we do.” Encourage employees to regularly ask themselves how a particular project or work activity ties into this purpose, then write that connection down. At the end of the month, invite employees to digitally share what they wrote about how their daily work contributed to and was inspired by that month’s purpose.

These are only some basic starting places for EQ training, but they give you an idea of the kind of emotional intelligence you want to teach and encourage in your workforce. By training your team’s EQ, you are well-prepared to tackle whatever complex business challenges come your way.

What’s at stake if you fail to develop your company EQ

”People must be able to work together well, or a company won’t meet its goals. …In today’s rapidly changing business environment, we just don’t have the time to wait for teams to become stronger organically. We have to be intentional.”

Carol Lowe, Executive Vice President and CFO of FLIR Systems

Emotional intelligence is not some fuzzy concept that might intangibly help your organization. Instead, it’s the glue that holds your workforce together. Teams with poor EQ struggle to solve problems together effectively, cannot communicate efficiently during tight timelines, and have managers who fail to get the best out of their employees.

And as Carol Lowe says, the pace of business is too quick to hope our teams develop emotional intelligence organically. Instead, we need to take the need for IT to develop EQ seriously by training soft skills like emotional awareness, creativity, and problem solving. This can cultivate a sense of company purpose among your employees that inspires their best work, no matter how complex the challenges they face.

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