If your business is like most businesses, you are likely currently experimenting with ways in which artificial intelligence can make you better. Maybe you are exploring how AI can analyze operational data to improve your decision-making, or perhaps you are testing out how AI-driven chatbots can streamline your customer service.
While I believe that AI can be leveraged to enhance our human efforts, I don’t believe it can replace the human connection that is so important to a healthy workplace. As we move into the age of AI, emotional intelligence (EQ)—and the human connection that it empowers—has become more important than ever. Leaders who want to use AI effectively must ensure that EQ remains a core component of their business.
Why we need EQ more than ever
The physical challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic may be behind us, but the mental challenges triggered by the pandemic have not gone away. People are still struggling to make sense of the new normal and they need leaders with high EQ to help them.
Some employees still reeling from the pandemic are showing up to work, but failing to engage. They have a million things on their minds and doing their best work is not one of them. That is a problem for business leaders because it dramatically affects their organization’s productivity.
Addressing the problem requires EQ. A leader needs to discern what is going on with his or her team. Is someone sad, depressed or frustrated? If a leader is not able to figure out where their employees are, then he or she won’t be able to move them forward to a better place.
The insight that EQ brings also allows leaders to craft a narrative that empowers people because it acknowledges where people are, what they are feeling and the steps that the organization is taking to make things better. Great leadership creates and communicates narratives that give people hope.
How AI threatens an EQ-centered workplace
If you believe the hype, the applications for AI are endless. The media tells us it can help any size business and it can help in any department — from managing recruiting and hiring to training and performance evaluations. Engagement with both employees and customers can benefit from the use of AI-driven tools.
AI is able to manage all of these things because it delivers speed and automation, both of which make a human connection all the more challenging to sustain, but for all that it can do, AI will never care how an employee feels. An AI-driven chatbot will never say, “This person is having a bad day. How can I make it better?”
As companies turn to AI to empower greater efficiency, they must also take steps to ensure that leadership continues to value the human connection. Here are a few they should consider:
• Foster an AI-augmented culture. Using AI to replace people and the roles that they play in workplace interactions will absolutely have a negative impact on human connections. A better approach is to leverage AI to augment the current culture and enhance human performance.
Decision-making provides an excellent example of an area where organizations should pursue AI augmentation, as better decision-making is one of the benefits that AI developers are promising to the business world. AI-driven tools can analyze vast amounts of data in short periods of time to provide invaluable insights.
However, traditionally decision-making has relied heavily on emotional intelligence. Leaders leverage EQ to understand the emotions and motivations of others, ultimately making decisions that anticipate the impact they will have on employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
An AI-augmented approach can utilize AI to uncover insights that further inform decision-makers, but it would not leave AI to make its own data-driven decision.
• Hire high-EQ leaders. For EQ to remain at the core of a company, it must flow from the top down. After all, a leader’s behavior reveals what is valuable to a company, so if leadership is not taking the time to notice and acknowledge feelings, they shouldn’t expect to see their employees engaging with EQ.
One way to identify high-EQ leaders during the recruiting process is to go a little deeper during interviews. Explore situations applicants have been in and ask how they felt about it. Remember that people who feel they need to justify their feelings don’t typically have a high EQ. The same is true of those who aren’t aware of how they are feeling or why they are feeling that way.
• Include EQ in performance evaluations. Holding people accountable for the way they practice EQ is an effective way to keep it a core component of your culture. Take the time to notice who is disengaged and initiate a conversation to find out why.
What you will likely find is that the people who are the most challenged to be sympathetic toward other people are the ones who need sympathy the most. Peel back the onion, and you’ll find those people need some help. If they aren’t concerned with how others are feeling, it is usually because they are not feeling good themselves.
Organizations that want to excel in the age of AI will need more than AI-driven tools. They will also need motivated and engaged employees who can wield those tools.
To build that type of workplace, leaders must continue to place a high priority on keeping EQ at the core of what they do.