Time to Join the Affective Revolution

"Most leaders focus on how employees think and behave - but feelings matter just as much."

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, authors Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O'Neill suggest that companies suffer when they do little to manage their emotional culture.  

Much is written about corporate culture and it is typically centered around the concept of cognitive culture:  "the shared intellectual values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that serve as a guide for the group to thrive".  Unfortunately, this leaves a crucial part of culture on the sidelines.  Emotional culture is "the shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work".  

Most leaders feel lost when it comes to influencing emotional culture.  Unlike cognitive culture which is spread verbally, emotional culture is conveyed through non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions.  

So what do you do if your have an emotional culture that is at odds with productivity, quality and employee satisfaction?  Many of the answers lie in the concept of emotional contagion. Simply put, people can catch feelings from others.  According to Barsade and O'Neill, you want to leverage this by:

  1. Harnessing what people already feel
  2. Model the emotions you want to create
  3. Get people to fake it till they make it

Whether we are talking emotional or cognitive culture, a grand gesture once or twice a year does not hold power unless it is in line with the day-to-day behaviours on the job.  

Find more detail in the full HBR article which can be found here.  All quotes in this post are sourced from the article.