• Linley Watson

Emotions – Critical to Good Culture and Good Business



Organisational culture is widely acknowledged as a source of competitive advantage with hundreds of studies demonstrably linking strong workplace cultures with better financial performance, innovation, talent attraction and retention, ethical behaviour and customer satisfaction. Yet few are aware that there is a thinking and a feeling component to culture that needs to be nurtured.

Although the concept of emotional intelligence has been around for decades, leaders brought up on the old school ‘leave your emotions at the door’ philosophy have rarely contemplated how they (and their people) want to feel, or not feel, at work. They consider discussing and influencing people’s emotions to be irrelevant, too personal or simply unprofessional. Therefore, they underestimate the crucial influence emotion has on their culture, leadership, wellbeing and ultimately their business results. Stimulating the emotional culture conversation

The feelings people have and express at work reflect an organisation’s collective emotional culture. A leader in the burgeoning field of emotional culture is Jeremy Dean, CEO of leadership company Riders and Elephants. A former professional cricketer and advertising and brand specialist, Jeremy noticed that most conversations about culture inside organisations were top-down, one way and focused on defining a core set of beliefs, but completely overlooking a core driver of human behaviour – emotions.

His response was to create a simple tool called The Emotional Culture Deck to stimulate conversations about how people feel in the workplace. The card deck is now being used by a wide range of organisations in Australasia and across the world – from sporting teams, not for profits, local government, to large telco’s and banks.


According to Jeremy, leaders don’t pay enough attention to how employees are or should be feeling in order to be successful at work. And they underestimate how central emotions are to building the right culture and employee experiences.

“Traditionally, companies focus solely on their shared values and behaviours to try and guide how their people think and behave at work. But the missing link that drives how people think and behave at work is the emotional culture of a company – how people feel.

Because how people feel drives their decision making, how they interact with others, how engaged and committed they are to their role and the company, and so much more.

So, as leaders, we need to flip the culture conversation and start by asking ourselves how we want to feel. Then ask what do we want our people to feel, and not feel, to be successful when they’re at work? We can then design a culture to support these emotions, in the context of our purpose and values,” said Jeremy.


Every organisation has an emotional culture

Behavioural science tells us that emotion drives people’s behaviour. By understanding and influencing how people feel, it is possible to influence their behaviour at work.

Few would doubt that Sir Richard Branson has considered the emotions he wants to evoke amongst his team and customers on the quest for Virgin to be the world’s most irresistible brand. Positive emotions are clearly reflected in his demeanour and the company values described as "we are delightfully surprising, red hot, straight up whilst maintaining an insatiable curiosity, giving a heartfelt service and creating smart disruption." Behavioural expectations are built around Virgin team members being supportive, respectful, proud, adventurous, passionate and creative.


Although every organisation has an underlying emotional culture, not all of them are positive. In some cultures, fear is a key driver of behaviour. Fear of making a mistake, fear of being reprimanded or ridiculed, or fear of losing one’s job can lead to inertia, information hoarding and infighting. Examples abound of dysfunctional organisational cultures in the financial services, car and airline manufacturing, energy, pharmaceutical and other sectors in which a healthy dose of fear may have prevented reckless, self-serving and unethical behaviours.

Emotions drive the employee experience

One way to apply the neuroscience behind emotional culture is to design an employee experience that reinforces the positive emotions that people want to feel at work and to help them cope when they feel the negative emotions that they’d prefer to avoid. Typical employee experience touchpoints to consider include recruitment, induction, team meetings, internal communications and the physical workplace environment.


Peak Performance consultant Louise Thomson, challenges leaders to consider the impact of their own emotions and the behaviours they drive in themselves and others. She uses The Emotional Culture Deck as a tool to provoke thinking, generous and tough conversations. “The cards provide a focus for the change necessary to arrive at the emotional culture being sought. In a recent workshop, a manager was shocked by the conversations it provoked. He had no idea of the impact he and the executive had on the feelings of people in their workplace and how this affected their day-to-day experience. “The tool was a catalyst for discussions that needed to be had. The team felt they had permission to discuss the positive and negative emotions they had been experiencing and how this was impacting them. The newfound awareness at the leadership level meant they were able to intentionally design a more emotionally supportive culture that helped improved morale and engagement,” said Louise.

A head and heart approach to culture

Culture and values are key reasons people join, stay, or leave an organisation so having a strong mission and healthy culture matters. It is up to senior leaders to make the emotional connection and balance both the thinking and feeling aspects of culture so that their people and organisation thrive. Taking a head and heart approach that fosters a positive emotional culture is not only good for people, it’s also good for profits.



Contact Peak Performance to learn more about the Emotional Culture Deck and how to develop an emotional culture that enables your people to thrive. www.peakperformance.com.au


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