In order to embrace the new realities of a changing workplace, Four Seasons has turned their focus to emotional intelligence. The luxury hospitality company recently sponsored a report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services looking at the business advantage EI can provide teams. As an expert on emotional intelligence, I was given the opportunity to review the research report and speak with Christian H. Clerc, president of global operations.
What the study found is far-ranging and confirms conclusions that are becoming more widely accepted: Organizations that emphasize emotional intelligence have higher employee engagement and customer loyalty. This leads to greater productivity and profitability.
While the importance of having a focus on emotional intelligence is becoming increasingly more accepted in organizations, the question of how to develop it has been a difficult one. Many organizations will focus on finding people who are highly emotionally intelligent as they believe that while they can train for skills, developing EI in people is more difficult and challenging. Typical training involves assessments, presentations, data analysis, and metrics.
According to Richard Boyatzis, who contributed to the study, beginning presentations on EI by introducing a huge amount of data can be ineffective. One of our human tendencies is to focus on our weaknesses, says Boyatzis, who is a professor at Case Western University and one of the leading world experts on leadership and emotional intelligence. This can bring up people’s defensiveness, causing stress and blocking the mind from embracing new ideas. Instead of starting with training videos, lectures, and assessments, Boyatzis recommends starting with conversation and interaction intended to increase self-awareness.
One group that uses the sort of method that the Harvard study found to be most effective is the Weatherhead University leadership program in Cleveland, Ohio. Students in the program develop their visions through self-exploration and in-depth discussions with their peers and coaches. The students found that this led to deeper levels of self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to understand the viewpoints of others. This then steered them to develop better relationships with others.
The ultimate test of any training is the ability to retain improvements into the future. Weatherhead found that students who took the training retained improvement in their EI capabilities months after they completed the training, according to feedback collected from those working with the students. Another organization that takes the self-exploration route to teaching emotional intelligence is UBS, a multinational bank and financial services company. In order to take on new clients, UBS must practice due diligence, which involves asking potential clients intensive questions about the source and origins of their wealth—a sensitive area for most.
To do this effectively requires UBS staff to be highly sensitive, empathic, and aware so as not to turn off the potential client and have them end up going to another financial institution. To develop these abilities, UBS employees spend three days to do in-depth exploration to more fully understand where they are at in real time. They work on having conversations that involve high levels of self-awareness and empathy, necessary to successfully ask their potential clients questions that can be viewed as highly personal.
Four Seasons also does some in-depth exploration with the people they hire. In their interviews, ask potential employees the question, “Tell me about a time you did something for someone. How did it make you feel?” According to Clerc, it’s easy to spot someone who is not authentic in their reply to this question. They are looking for people who are focused on others, as those that are self-focused will not prioritize guests. Four Seasons believe what guests will remember most about their stay at one of their properties is the interactions they had with people. “The trend in new luxuries are experiential ones,” says Clerc. “The experience you have at our hotel, how you were treated, and how you feel will be remembered.”
To make the interactions positive and memorable, Clerc says the company relies upon “unscripted care,” which requires staff to interact with their guest authentically, positively, and appropriately in the moment. This is difficult to teach as each situation is unique, which requires staff that have a high degree of empathy and self-awareness at all times. Four Seasons leadership development prioritizes this sort of EI training through 360 feedback tools, coaching, and leadership development, with the aim of increasing self-awareness.
The experiential focus on self-awareness and shared purpose starts when on-boarding new staff. Training is based on deep-dive EI activities, such as mindfulness and meditation, as well as empathy and compassion exercises to strengthen their relationship with guests. Employees are entrusted to make on-the-spot decisions to improve a client’s experience.
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