“Don’t take it personally. It’s just business.”
Just about everyone has heard this mantra at some point. And while it’s more commonly heard in movies than in meeting rooms, it’s still an accurate representation of how business is done today.
According to research, corporate entities have a long way to go when it comes to managing their emotional culture—the way their employees behave, react, and feel at work. This can cause major problems, especially among leadership.
Tech mogul Phaneesh Murthy has held leadership positions at numerous global companies. Despite his success, he wishes that he’d given more thought to emotional intelligence over the years.
“If I were to give advice to my younger self, I would be to pay more attention to human emotions at work,” Murthy said. He explains that while the technical aspects of sales, marketing, and operations are important, an emotional understanding is required to grease the wheels. Without emotional management, decisions can’t be made, conflicts can’t be resolved, and team members can’t unite around common goals.
As the CEO and founder of the advisory agency Primentor, Inc., Murthy works closely with senior executives at 6-7 companies per day. He now knows more than ever that properly managing emotional culture can be a major catalyst of growth—and that poor emotional management can hinder success at all levels.
What is Emotional Culture?
Business people talk about corporate culture all the time. It’s identified as one of the most important parts of a business—unifying employees around a company’s mission.
Many think that corporate culture is the same as emotional culture, but that’s not the case. Corporate culture refers to the values of the company and how well they are aligned with the values of the employees. Emotional culture refers to employees’ feelings and how those feelings affect interpersonal relationships.
This is something that Phaneesh Murthy, and many other managers, had to learn on the job. “I had to go back and relearn how to deal with human emotions,” Murthy said. “As you get older and take on leadership roles, you have to learn how to make teams work.” He discovered that factors like motivation, teamwork, and creativity depend more on emotional intelligence than technical training.
For example, an anxious manager can easily promote a culture of tension and anger in an office that would otherwise thrive in a more compassionate environment. This sort of emotional stress can affect burnout, absenteeism, turnover, and even financial performance.
Many studies have found that positive emotions are associated with better performance at work. According to Phaneesh Murthy, companies can benefit greatly from identifying their emotional culture and working to build an atmosphere of positivity in their day-to-day.
Roadblocks to Recognizing Emotions at Work
In today’s fast-paced business environment, management tends to associate success with the operational effectiveness of teams. But they fail to ask why teams operate effectively. Assumptions are made that effective teams are simply comprised of people who are especially technically well-trained.
But this is often not the case. It happens all the time that an employee thrives in one company and then moves to another where they are unable to meet expectations.
This is because interpersonal communication and positive emotional support are prerequisites for technical excellence.
Business executives also receive very little training in HR. Many CEOs don’t even understand the role of HR in their companies. This culture trickles down to employees—about half of whom don’t trust HR to resolve their emotional disputes and interpersonal conflicts.
Phaneesh Murthy admits to blowing off his HR studies in business school, thinking that technical courses were much more important.
“When I was doing my MBA, I thought HR courses were soft, easy courses,” He remembers “So, I ignored my courses around HR.” This was a decision he would come to regret, as he had to do a lot of work to develop his emotional intelligence years later.
Now he knows that emotional understanding is the glue that holds teams together. It promotes effective communication, builds positive reinforcement, and increases job satisfaction.
Leadership and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional management is critical at all levels of an organization. But at lower levels, hierarchy can make management and conflict resolution easier. Among leadership teams, the same hierarchy and incentives may not exist, making effective communication more difficult.
Phaneesh Murthy argues that understanding human emotions is the most important part of getting results from leaders.
“As you move up the chain, HR and human emotions become the most important things,” he said.
A positive emotional culture among leadership fosters teamwork and clear communication. It also creates an environment where leaders are more comfortable getting creative and taking risks. The creativity and agility that businesses need in order to thrive today get stifled when competition and bitterness exist within the C-suite.
Phaneesh Murthy has been CEO of two companies. In his previous role as CEO of the IT services firm iGATE, he led a staff of over 10,000. Even with his brightest executives and managers, he needed to rely on his emotional understanding to get the technical results he wanted.
Many other successful leaders feel the same way, which is why the saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is so popular among executives. Murthy would argue that “culture” in this context is referring just as much to a company’s emotional culture as its intellectual culture.
Emotional Management is the Root of All Management
Phaneesh Murthy is one of the most successful businesspeople today. The Indian billionaire is a brilliant salesman and marketer, and he’s earned his success by understanding the motivations of customers. But as he climbed the leadership ladder, he realized it was just as critical to understand the motivations of his staff.
Businesses are composed of people, and regardless of their technical training, their emotions will always form the foundation of their success—or failure—at work. Phaneesh Murthy warns executives today not to ignore the emotional culture at their companies. With proper emotional management, businesses prosper—and so do people.