A Place for Our Emotions

Management Today, April 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

A Place for Our Emotions


Successful bosses must feel as well as think, for strategy stands a much better chance of success when managers' hearts are invested in the job.

Mr Brown, I'm sorry. (No, not the chancellor but Richard Brown, managing partner of Cognosis Consulting.) When you called, as arranged, my response lacked a degree of courtesy, a certain, shall we say, finesse. Oh, all right. I was downright bloody rude. The thing is, I was tired and emotional - not, I hasten to add, 'tired and emotional' (it was in the morning). I mean, my feelings outran my rational self.

But stuff like this does happen. Our emotional and professional lives cannot always sit in separate boxes. Feelings are not only a fact of life, but a factor in business. The irony of my terse exchange with Brown is that he knows this better than almost anyone. Cognosis has just completed some research demonstrating that the success or failure of a business strategy depends significantly on the emotional engagement of employees - and, above all, of front-line managers. A strategy that delivers has to win hearts as well as heads. And the trouble is that only one in 20 managers strongly agree that their company's strategy is 'exciting' or 'inspiring'.

The under-performance of business strategies is well researched: one study found that on average a strategy delivers only about two-thirds of its potential value. The Cognosis work suggests most of the gap is emotional. Of course managers need to understand and agree with a strategy, but unless they feel it too, their behaviour is less likely to change.

Brown says - now via a trusted third party, a Switzerland sort of person - that strategies not only need to be intellectually sharp but to have an 'emotional edge' too and go 'beyond reason'. The point is not that feelings should supplant reason but support it. The Cognosis research also finds a strong link between emotional and rational buy-in to a strategy. This means that the process of strategy-creation within a firm is as important as the resulting strategy.

A proper evaluation of the role of emotion in business life is long overdue. At the moment, there is too little between hard-ass, focus-on-the-numbers, bottom-line, stiff-upper-lip strat egy and hug-a-tree, woe-is-me, executive coach-guided therapy sessions. This reflects a broader social challenge, which is puzzling thoughtful politicians too. Feelings - fear, confidence, hope, love or shame - are increasingly important factors in policy areas such as crime, enterprise, pensions, family formation and obesity. But the experts in Whitehall don't do emotion. Their intellectually rigorous policies are about 'rational' incentives, not emotional climate. We are overrun with think-tanks, although what we really need are feel-tanks, if that doen't sound a bit pervy.

The primacy of reason is, of course, the greatest blessing of the Enlightenment and the modern age. …

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