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Emotional culture – a driver for increased performance

By Dan Handscomb

In a previous post, I examined the importance of creating a culture in which teams and individuals can express their emotions. I looked at the role that leaders and managers have in building and fostering an emotional culture, and the clear correlation with not only individual, but also company performance.


Having worked within and for a number of leading corporations in the UK and on an international scale, I have seen first-hand the power of emotional culture. Every one of these firms will have a carefully crafted mission statement that will point to the values that are the foundation of their business. Read further and you’ll see another commonality – the language that articulates these values will be emotive. Take John Lewis as an example – the partnership states that its purpose is to maintain “the happiness of all our members, through their worthwhile, satisfying employment in a successful business”. MacDonald’s claims to be using its reach to “be a positive force”, championing “healthy happy kids.” The businesses claim that emotion is core to these companies and the people within them – so should be mirrored by an environment in which it is acceptable to express yourself and be heard.


Managing emotion and linking experiences back to the personal or business impact they made answers the ‘so what’ question that is often overlooked – and is critical in addressing emotions and conflict. We need to be clear and articulate when negative emotions hinder our actions, and describe the direct consequences of this. Has a meeting with an aggressive colleague stopped you from speaking out? What would you have bought to the table if you felt comfortable expressing your views, and what did the business miss out on as a result of this? Conversely, has a conversation with a senior player motivated you and spurred you on to action a large chunk of your ‘to do’ list? Many of us will have experienced both sides of this spectrum – but how many of us actually discussed the impact these negative and positive actions had on us and on the productivity of our business?


In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni looks at the power of trust. Lencioni states that once we have mastered the art of managing conflict and securing the trust of the people around us, they in turn will be equipped with the skills they need to positively express their emotions. Clear culture and values are the signpost that many of us need to gauge what a business is about. This vision needs to lead from the top, but be practised from within a company. For example, John Lewis believes in the happiness of its members and promotes the partnership structure that empowers and engages them, both internally and externally. Partnership and happiness will be intrinsic to their on-going appraisal process, meeting etiquette and daily business ethos – and with a clear commercial upside for the business.


Once a vision is set, a continuous temperature check will determine how this has translated into culture and values. Surveys have their place but the effectiveness of a culture will be more evident as you look around a business and listen to the language of the people within it. Are they displaying the emotions that are intrinsic to the values that a business lives by? Are John Lewis partners happy and engaged? Is MacDonald’s regarded as a positive force?


Creating an emotional culture is key to the success of an organisation. While it should be lived and breathed by management, culture needs to be born from and bought to life by a cross section of the business in order to truly be part of its DNA.