All employees have their individual emotions – what can be termed “personal emotions” – and dealing with those affecting workplace dynamics is of course important, but lesser understood and therefore addressed are the shared workplace emotions – what can be termed “collective emotions” – which can negatively impact the execution of a new business strategy.
Collective emotions, or “group-focus” emotions, are those emotions felt by many within an organisation with regard to a workplace scenario or initiative. Often such emotions are experienced by middle managers, who have been tasked from above with an execution strategy. These managers or employees may or may not be aware of their shared emotions, but either way their mutual sentiment – perhaps of anger, anxiety or resentment – is of a scale greater than that of personal emotions as to be able to impact the overall implementation of the plan.
Think of collective emotion as a pattern of emotion; while one pessimistic employee might not have the influence to derail an execution strategy, a pattern of pessimism in a team may well hinder that team’s ability to effectively carry out the given task.
A good example of what we’re talking about is the failure of Barack Obama’s ambitious universal healthcare scheme. ObamaCare has received much praise in terms of its ideology and aim, yet its execution has proved fairly dismal and has caused the President to lose much popularity. Major IT failures led to a low signup rate and general loss of confidence in the scheme by the public.
In this situation ‘senior management’ – i.e. the President and his senior staff – had a solid idea in mind, and had an execution strategy in place for how to achieve it. The execution strategy consisted of the various steps to be taken, and of the resources (such as personnel, finances and equipment) that needed to be allocated. What the strategy arguably didn’t take into account was the collective emotions of those tasked with implementing it.
Managers and other employees will always impact – even if subtly – the execution of a implementation strategy. Their collective confidence in their leaders and the project will affect their ability to carry it out.
Employees generally learn that expressing emotions in the workplace is taboo, and will not advance their individual careers. We especially try to avoid revealing any of the extreme / negative emotions while at work, for example, crying over stress. So emotions are generally bottled up, perhaps expressed at home or among friends, but not at the office and seldom among colleagues. These emotions can sometimes be bottled up, simmering over weeks, months or years and causing real problems down the line.
It’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that repressed collective emotions also have a negative impact on workplace dynamics and efficiency. This effect might be inadvertent, or it might be intentional (middle management that feels strong collective resentment or anger over a new policy might seek to sabotage it).
We therefore advise company leaders to rethink their corporate culture so as to encourage the expression of collective emotions, thereby enabling them to understand the concerns of their subordinates and take timeous and appropriate emotion management action before those emotions muddle the execution strategy.
For collective emotions to become a recognised and incorporated part of company culture, emotional intelligence and management needs to be promoted amongst all employees, including upper management. With such an understanding and skillset in place, management will be equipped to identify collective emotions and create space for their expression within the workplace in an environment that is felt be all to be safe. Such forums or spaces will open up an avenue for the constructive handling of these emotions.
Successful execution strategies are those that have had buy-in from all levels of management, so the creation of a culture where collective emotions are shared with and addressed by the appropriate individuals is vital to the health of any company.