Emotional Intelligence – The Key to Enterprise and Individual Success in an Automated Workplace

Mark Sear By Mark Sear September 14, 2016

We’re in the middle of a workplace revolution – the biggest since the industrial revolution over one hundred years ago – but this time it’s entirely digital.

Technology offers us more flexibility and freedom than ever. Wifi, mobile devices and cloud-based storage platforms mean that we can work from almost anywhere, provided we have the right tools. It also enables us to automate many complex and repetitive tasks, traditionally the kind which humans tend to falter at given our limited attention spans, need for sleep, food and respite. The Future Laboratory’s latest ‘Work Summit’ report analyses much of this in detail.

There are endless examples illustrating how automation helps businesses increase efficiencies and compete more effectively. For example, a European bank is using automated voice biometrics to improve call handling with high-net worth clients. The system listens and matches voice signatures to verify the identity of the caller. So far it’s managed to reduce average handling time for each call by 15 seconds and improved customer satisfaction, with 93% rating the system 9 out of 10. Similarly a global mobile communications service provider has seen success using real-time data analytics to better understand customer location and travel patterns to support real-time promotions, advertising and upselling services.

But conversely automation can, but not always, lead to job losses. The financial services sector was particularly quick to embrace Artificial Intelligence and data analytics and the effect this has had on the number of people it employs has been dramatic. In 2000, financial services employed 150,000 people in New York but by 2013 that had dropped to 100,000, while Wall Street’s profits soared. Using algorithms to automatically execute equity trades, rather than people, certainly hasn’t been bad for business.

Naturally this is a worry for some people, as no sector is immune from digital disruption. And more recent research suggests that 40 per cent of young people across nine countries believe their current jobs could be replaced by some of automation within 10 years. How then can people upskill themselves enough to remain employable during and after the digital revolution?

I believe Emotional Intelligence is the key to ongoing success. While machines surpass people at mathematical or physically grueling and precise tasks, they are terrible at anything requiring “soft skills”. The best that’s been achieved to date to my knowledge is Pepper, the “emotional robot” which can apparently feel “joy, surprise, angle, doubt and sadness” at what looks like a very basic level.

Good communication and interpersonal skills are vital in any role, and the backbone of any business which requires dealing with other people. As John D. Rockefeller, one of the United States most successful and renowned business men, once explained “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee and I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.”

In a world where the Information Generation have more choice than ever, brand loyalty is weak and the platforms on which to share their negative opinions to thousands of others in an instant, a positive customer journey is everything. Consumers will reward companies that provide an excellent customer experience. According to recent research, 6 in 10 will tell their friends and family about a customer experience that went the extra mile, and almost 4 in 10 would write a positive review. These are important actions, given that word-of-mouth and customer reviews have tremendous sway over consumers’ purchase decisions. The same also applies to public services such as the NHS. When a patient feels less stressed about their care, their recovery time is significantly decreased.  Junior Doctor exams are now more weighted towards improving bedside manner with this in mind.

Demand for Emotionally Intelligent individuals who excel at these aspects, while machines take care of the rest, will surely rise and I believe dramatically so. It’s therefore vital that both individuals and organisations prepare to meet these demands. At the moment there are just a small range of courses available to help people upskill themselves in this area. While we’ve been working with The Cabinet Office to develop its Plotr game to help young people discover careers they’ll love, perhaps this is something the Government should be investing in further. Particularly as consumer technology seems to be robbing the younger generations of their ability to interact with people in real life…but that’s an article for another time.

Meanwhile businesses should be hiring for Emotional Intelligence so they have a workforce adept at dealing with change, understand and motivate others, and manage both positive and negative emotions to create an environment where everyone can be at their best. Self-reported testing only tells half the story. Detailed conversations with references and behavioural event questioning in face-to-face interviews will tell the other half.

In conclusion, the march of the intelligent machines will not abate because ultimately their ability to dramatically improve the lives we lead and the businesses we run has been proven time and time again. But AI and data analytics are not here to make people redundant, they are here to allow us to re-focus on our often overlooked, but totally unique interpersonal skills.  It won’t be long before we see diseases being diagnosed in the GP surgery in a split second by AI, so the doctor in question can focus on offering their patient the much needed emotional support. And I personally think that’s a very positive thing!

Mark Sear

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One thought on “Emotional Intelligence – The Key to Enterprise and Individual Success in an Automated Workplace

  1. Dear Mark, I truly enjoyed your article. Recently I had an interesting discussion about the fact that people can learn EQ. In my experience, some people are born gifted and received some EQ from mother nature; others need to work hard and spend of lot of energy to step out off their comfort zone or natural behavior and act more emotionally intelligent. At first it’s a conscious process, but when practiced a lot it will become an unconscious process. The final step is integration in the natural behavior. The first step however is opening your eyes and realizing/accepting that you have a gap to close.

    In relation to the value of people over machines, I also wrote an article on Linkedin:

    Taking into consideration the machine’s capabilities and latest developments in AI, we should reorientate and rethink what value we can bring to the table to stay ahead of the machine.