WITH ERIC DUEA
Recently, I had the opportunity to partner with a regional-sized financial institution focused on a “future of work” project. The project was centered on the organization’s plan to permanently transition to a hybrid work environment. The client had navigated 2020 and the associated pandemic-related challenges well by intently listening to their employees and customers. Operational teams were adapting quickly to new standards, technologies, and expectations. The company was confident in their people and they felt ready to be one of the first companies to make such a transition.
As I began my work with the client, it was easy to see how much leadership valued their people and how much employees valued their place of work. Additionally, leadership also recognized the significance of the change impacts that accompanied this decision. Their highest priority was to maintain a thriving company culture.
Many of the anticipated change impacts were universal to the employee experience. For example, all employees knew that video conferencing was simply now a part of their everyday experience. For the most part, all employees working onsite could anticipate similar changes. Sharing desks, equipment, meeting rooms, and flexible common areas would be the new normal.
However, there were also different implications company-wide depending on department, team, and role. It was widely understood that not every role would allow for flexible work arrangements. The nature of communication to certain employees that their position does not enable the same flexible work arrangements as their peers, was a critical element of the overall work effort. This process, if not properly navigated, presented a potential threat to company culture.
We kicked off the engagement through employee surveys, focus groups, interviews, and all-employee communications. We knew that detailed data on employee experiences would be key in informing how we structure work sessions, but it was also pivotal to the expansion of our awareness and empathy as facilitators. Most importantly, all employees were invited to participate in the process, offer input, express concerns, and share what was most important to them regarding this upcoming change. For example: How important is it to employees to have the option to work from home? What resources do they need to work from home? What are their top concerns?
We formed multiple working groups comprising a balanced cross-section of the organization to ensure sufficient representation existed during these difficult conversations. The working groups collaborated over a 3-month period to co-design a hybrid work program that they believed would enable the company and its employees to succeed in this new semi-virtual workplace arena.
The most rewarding aspect of this engagement was the privilege to be a part of a group of people defining how they wanted to show up for one another on a daily basis. It was truly delightful to observe how naturally teammates gravitated towards themes of collaboration, responsibility, and doing right by one another.
In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, leadership had given up control and trusted employees of the organization to work through these difficult conversations. Naturally, the employees reciprocated by centering discussions on what was best for the company. This is not to say that some of the conversations didn’t involve contentious debate. For example: Is it an expectation that everyone’s camera is on all the time? And, if someone elects to work from the office every day, can they opt out of desk sharing and reserve their own desk?
Fortunately, the leadership team did not expect the working groups to design the perfect hybrid work experience on the first attempt. Leaders understood that the transition to a new way of working together and serving customers would be a learning journey for everyone. They emphasized the importance of embracing adaptability and a spirit of continuous improvement.
Throughout this engagement, I was reminded that high collaboration, inclusivity, and consensus building are as time intensive as they are worthwhile. The decision to allocate several team members to a change process such as this is always difficult. There is always opportunity cost for where resources could be spending time instead, but it’s an investment.
The result of this investment was an organization of employees that felt included and valued in a change process that was very important to them. The returns on this investment will be realized over the years ahead. While these returns may not be measured and calculated in direct association with the investment made, they will be nested within employee retention rates, employee satisfaction, cross-departmental collaboration, company culture, and of course the experience employees provide to customers. They learned a lot about one another, and I saw the multi-level value of doing change well.
Eric applies a systems thinking approach to problem-solving. He is highly collaborative and genuinely passionate about helping others succeed. Eric’s experience spans across multiple industries including resorts and hospitality, international non profit, sustainable business/social enterprises, and events management space. His areas of expertise are sales and marketing, sustainable business, project management, business development, business process management, and business planning and analysis. Eric holds an M.B.A in Sustainable Systems from Presidio Graduate School as well as a B.S. in Business Administration from Methodist University; he is also a Certified Scrum Master and PGA Golf Professional. Eric is an avid golfer. Outside of work, he can be found strolling the fairways of Central Oregon and Southeast Washington.
OUR NON-NEGOTIABLES: EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
At The Gunter Group, the leadership traits and characteristics that define us are our Non-Negotiables: Collaborative, Integrity, Intellectual Curiosity, Thrives in Ambiguity, Emotional Intelligence, and Grounded Confidence. These traits and characteristics guide us every day in our interactions with clients, each other, and our community.
At the Gunter Group, we consider EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, or “EQ,” essential for understanding and solving complex problems. In short, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage emotions in yourself and others. For us, it’s about more than accurately reading and adapting to social cues, although this is an important part of EQ. It’s pulling from the depths of our intelligence, experience, and heart to show up fully for ourselves, each other, and our clients. It’s an approach that not only feels great but gets the best possible results.
While emotional intelligence is often referred to as a “soft” skill, we think of it as quite a hard one – both in terms of tangible value and difficulty to master. I recall taking an EQ assessment early in my career for a job in the hospitality industry. What I thought of as sophisticated and mature responses at the time I now think of as cringeworthy. “Where was my self-awareness?!?” I think now, after gaining much experience and insight in the years since. It certainly didn’t come easily or overnight. I’ve learned that other skills can be taught, and as consultants we’re accustomed to a steep learning curve, but EQ requires serious commitment to truly master and cannot be built overnight, hence why it is one of the most important traits we look for when growing our team.
As stewards of our client relationships, our consultants must demonstrate the highest degree of emotional intelligence. With this in place, we can trust them to assess and respond to situations appropriately, enlist support as needed, persevere through challenges, and moderate their own impulses, especially during times of stress. Exceptional EQ also means being aware of potential burnout, building individual resilience, and integrating work into a fulfilling and healthy life. When our consultants thrive in and out of the office, they deliver outstanding value for the long haul.
Furthermore, emotional intelligence is essential for our other five non-negotiables, enabling and amplifying our most important traits. For example:
— Self-awareness, a component of EQ, keeps the ego in check (grounded confidence).
— We can sense when someone feels unheard or steamrolled and adjust accordingly to cultivate trust within a group (collaboration).
— Connecting to our own emotions keeps us rooted in a strong moral compass (integrity).
— Giving, receiving, and integrating feedback makes continuous learning and improvement possible (intellectual curiosity).
— High EQ people are better able to maintain optimism and intrinsic motivation in the face of uncertainty and rapid change (thrives in ambiguity).
Research shows that emotional intelligence in the workplace helps establish the psychological safety proven to increase group intelligence which then drives innovation. As one of our non-negotiables, EQ enables us to challenge the status quo and deliver success without pushing too hard or coming in like a bull in a china shop.
Finally, when we enter a new engagement, understanding perceptions is crucial. I’ve been on the other side, when your company brings in an “outsider.” It can feel like a stranger who knows nothing about you or your work telling you how to do your job. We understand a degree of skepticism or even resistance to partnering outside your organization. Our clients have tremendous ownership and expertise – they are right to be protective of their work! It’s from a place of empathy and self-awareness that we navigate the at times tricky role of “third party” to eventually become true partners and trusted advisors. With emotional intelligence as a cornerstone, we know from experience that our non-negotiables will always lead to the best possible outcome for everyone.