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Emotional Intelligence and Managing Change

Technology versus Talent

When it comes to managing change at a very high level, efforts normally break down into two categories - technology and talent. Almost all change initiatives involve deploying new technology, changing business processes, reallocating budgets, or some other type of transformation that involves varying degrees of technology. The most common form in today's environment involves the purchase of a new technology system, where a new solution is procured and the receiving organization (RO) braces for technology change. However, most IT transformation projects (up to 75%) fail, with a common reason citing "lack of resources to meet project demands".

Most Focus on Technology, Very Few Focus On Talent

Officially, a lack of resources may indeed be the most common reason that 3 out of 4 IT projects fail, however, a deeper dive finds that it isn't a numbers problem, it's a people problem. There is often very little effort dedicated toward enabling the organization, and the people within it, to accept the change. The RO not only needs training on the new technology, but it also needs to be equipped with the emotional ability to receive the change.

Most People Do Not Like Change

People do not like change for a variety of reasons - having to learn a new job role, worry about job security, fear of reorganization, etc. When fear sets in, employee engagement and worker productivity drastically declines. This is oftentimes the reason why budgets blow through the original pre-deployment predictions; financial analysts didn't account for fear-induced-productivity-decline, that creates a phenomena called "The Valley of Despair".

Technology implementations must also be accompanied by workforce enablement around the stress of managing change. Even the most influential model of change management, Kotter's 8-step process for leading change, doesn't have a technology component. According to Leading Change (2012), by John Kotter, all of the steps are talent related (Creating a Sense of Urgency, Building a Guiding Coalition, Form a Strategic Vision, Enlist a Volunteer Army, Enable Action by Removing Barriers, Generate Short Term Wins, Sustain Acceleration, Institute Change).

Using Emotional Intelligence to Manage Change

According to the Bar-On model of Emotional Intelligence, the Stress Management Composite within the EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Intelligence assessment "is comprised of Flexibility, Stress Tolerance, and Optimism. Collectively, this facet of emotional intelligence addresses how well one can cope with the emotions associated with change and unfamiliar or unpredictable circumstances, while remaining hopeful about the future and resilient in the face of setbacks and obstacles" (Bar-On, 2002).

EQ-i 2.0 Model of Emotional Intelligence

Flexibility is how well one adapts emotions, thoughts, and ultimately behaviors to circumstances that are unpredictable or unfamiliar, like a new technology deployment.

Stress Tolerance is how well one copes with difficult situations, ambiguous scenarios, and stress due to lack of clarity, and how well one believes that he or she can influence situations in a positive manner.

Optimism is an indicator of one's positive attitude and measures how well one remains hopeful and resilient, in the face of oncoming setbacks.

It's All About Balance

The idea isn't to simply "raise" the use of these skills within the workforce, as overuse of these emotional intelligence skills can often be just as detrimental as underuse. The emotional intelligence of the workforce must be managed by an I/O psychologist, executive coach, or experienced change manager, to ensure success.

Individuals with Low Flexibility have an inability or unwillingness to take in new data or change direction easily, which can result in rigid thinking, lacking curiosity, change resistance, or slow efforts when starting new projects. Conversely, individuals with too High Flexibility can be prone to more starts than finishes, a reluctance to closure, or becoming bored and/or predictable too easily.

Individuals with Low Stress Tolerance will not be able to handle the change, as he or she will be anxious, agitated, feel hopeless/helpless, lack self-confidence, or procrastinate due to fear. Conversely, individuals with too High Stress Tolerance might not be able to see legitimate stressors that require attention, might not be invested in the outcome of the change effort, be emotionally disconnected, or be overly-confident.

Individuals with Low Optimism will be pessimistic, depressed, self-defeating, and have a negative outlook on the change effort. Conversely, individuals with too High Optimism might be blind to project dangers and critical paths, have unrealistic beliefs and assume the change will occur regardless of effort, or see opportunities that do not really exist.

Don't Just Manage Change, Lead It

Learning about the upcoming technology will be important, and accelerating consumption of future services is dependent on adequate tools training. However, if the project fails before you reach productivity mountain, all of the tools training in the world will not matter. Ensure that your workforce is emotionally and psychologically equipped to not only manage the upcoming change, but to lead the change. Assessing the emotional intelligence of individuals and teams, with an assessment such as the EQ-i 2.0 individual or group report, is a great way to determine the best change management strategy when it comes to your people. Before you configure the technology, enable the talent.

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