Merry strategic planning season! If that reference runs a chill down your spine–for all the wrong reasons– it’s time to get to the root of the problem. And that root isn’t what you might expect.
Covert team dysfunction can derail strategic planning faster than any other factor. We’re not just talking about job roles or performance metrics in this context. We’re including the unmeasured and unmeasurable: The rumor mill, difficult personalities, avoidance behaviors, and other factors can be fatal to your organization’s strategic direction.
Many of these issues correlate with emotional intelligence (EQ). And, believe it or not, EQ tends to diminish from manager level to CEO. In fact, CEOs have the lowest average scores in the workplace, coming in below entry-level and non-managerial workers and everyone in-between. TalentSmartEQ found that EQ scores climb alongside job titles but peak at mid-management.
“Middle managers stand out with the highest EQ scores in the workplace because companies tend to promote people into these positions who are level-headed and good with people. The assumption here is that a manager with a high EQ is someone for whom people will want to work,” TalentSmart EQ’s Travis Bradberry explains to the World Economic Forum. But the score plummets from there. “For the titles of director and above, scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond…The higher you go above middle management, the more companies focus on metrics to make hiring and promotion decisions.”
So, let’s get this out in the open: If you’re part of executive leadership yourself, what if YOU’RE the problem with your team? Who is going to evaluate and critique you? If you have a board of directors, that’s an option. But boards are more concerned with bottom lines and aren’t as adept at (or interested in) addressing team dynamics or emotional intelligence subtleties. If they do, that usually means the executive leadership has gone so far down the rabbit hole of dysfunction that it’s causing far bigger problems than strategic planning headaches. (We hope you haven’t reached that point.)
On the other hand, you may not be “the problem,” but you also may have had the EQ squeezed out of you enough that you aren’t able to put your finger on the real issue. Albert Einstein famously said that if he were given one hour to save the planet, he would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it. The HT Group Executive Advisor Heather Ball has a similar approach to strategic planning—and it centers around EQ.
For our popular Strategy on a Page (SoaP) sessions, Ball starts with making sure every voice on the team is genuinely heard—an EQ tenant often lacking in the strategic planning process.
“I like to start with confidential interviews with integral players, who may or may not be management. Leadership rarely holds all the very valuable information needed to move forward. I take those insights, throw them in a bucket, shake it up, and pull out what I recognize as relevant regardless of who observed it,” Ball explains. “Because of the strictly confidential nature of the process, executives come to know things that employees are too intimidated to share with them. At the same time, the engagement is incredibly valuable to the company in another way because immediately these key employees feel heard with no fear of retribution.”
Time and again, Ball has uncovered issues that have been secretly plaguing teams—sometimes for years—without leadership acknowledgment. Those dynamics may have been the very thing eating away at the team’s ability to plan and meet goals.
“I’ve often been brought in when the executive leadership knows they have challenges they can’t clearly define. We’ll draw those out. And, when we do, the relief you can feel in the room—from all levels—is palatable. ‘Oh, my gosh, someone brought that up? Are you kidding me? We’re actually going to solve that problem?’ It’s really powerful. Without question, every company has issues that need addressing in this way.”
It’s critical to note that these conversations need to be handled by an outside consultant. Then, respect the consultant’s insistence that the feedback remains completely confidential (even—or especially—to you). EQ goes out the door and the entire engagement can be sabotaged otherwise. Consultants like Ball bring even more to the table by facilitating the resulting tough discussions based on what’s uncovered and helping to create an action plan based on the results. Learn more about our SoaP sessions here and Heather Ball’s background and experience here.