EQ for Tough Guys: Should Manufacturing Professionals Show Feelings?

Should manufacturing pros be as calm, cool, and collected as robots on the factory floor? Or should they embrace their feelings?

„Must. Suppress. Rage!“ is how this century’s best-known engineer, Homer Simpson, deals with his emotions. (He also has attempted to buy feelings: „Six feelings with extra cheese…”). Lucky for Simpson he lives in Springfield, because he would not likely get far at Fortaco, where there is a growing effort to embrace emotional intelligence (EI) and what it can do for the workplace.

Like the intelligence quotient (IQ), there is growing recognition that we all have an EQ, an emotional quotient. The EQ, like the IQ, centers at 100, and 68 percent of the population will fall between 85 and 115, within one standard deviation of 15. Some people are more emotionally savvy, others less. (Homer Simpson’s IQ is 58; his EQ surely not much different.)

If IQ measures raw intelligence, then EQ measures how well we understand and use our feelings, which has direct impact in industry. “Feelings drive behavior, and what we say and do impact the results,” explains Dr. Margareta Sjölund, Founder and Chief Psychologist at EQ Europe. When it comes to manufacturing professionals, Sjölund is not naïve. „We’re not asking people to let it all hang out, or to be emotional or cry. But we are asking people to recognize their feelings, understand them, and put them to work — because that generates results.”

Fortaco’s EQ experiment

In January 2021, Fortaco management selected 25 key managers for confidential testing using EQ Europe’s EQ-i2.0 inventory. The test measures emotional intelligence along 15 social/emotional competencies, including stress management, self-awareness, confidence, self-expression, impulsiveness, and assertiveness.

Participating managers received a report during a consultation, and then two hours per month over six months of counseling and team training, so that they might improve their EI. One year later, in January 2022, the 25 participants EQ skills were measured again.

There was statistical and numerical improvement, an increase in all 15 variables measured. But does numerical improvement equate to improvement in real life?

Skeptics

Not all Fortaco managers embraced the program with equal enthusiasm.

Joanna Lesicka, Fortaco’s Director, Steel Fabrication, Sourcing & Group Finance Business Control, was already aware that soft skills matter. „I work in a group position as business controller with six factories in multiple countries, so I know how important cooperation is. And though I’m a zero-one finance person, I consider myself self-aware. Ninety percent of the course was a reminder.”

Still, Lesicka found value in a module about how to behave in situations when opinions drastically differ. „I learned to react in a different way, to say ‘I see your point. But the way you’re making it saddens me, because I take it personally. Is it really that important? I would like us to focus more on developing a solution than talking about what went wrong from your perspective only.’”

Fortaco’s General Manager for the Kalajoki business site, Jyri Paavola, was not skeptical of EQ itself, having worked with a personal coach for two years. But Paavola felt the training modules were sometimes misunderstood. „You need smaller groups, more cycles, and it needs to be executed company wide.“

He also was perplexed by some of the results. „I was confused because the test result said I wasn’t empathetic. But people who know me would say the opposite. But it was explained to me that this measures whether your behavior was empathetic. You have to express empathy with words. I learned it’s not enough to help, but you need to nod and hug. I don’t know if I can do that, but I know people would like me more if I did.”

Believers

Andrzej Wrona, Fortaco Group’s Director Operational Excellence, did not need to be persuaded about EI. He has always seen it as a part of daily life. „If you hire the best-in-class engineers without communication skills, without empathy, emotional zeroes, then they’re not good people for you. What good is knowledge if you think everybody who isn’t an engineer is stupid? Those people can’t contribute as much.“

After his evaluation and coaching, what changes has he personally made? „I was not communicating with my team enough. Now I take 15 minutes for a one-on-one with each team member each week. We have no specific agenda. It’s about well-being and what they need. We get to know each other as humans. I have been asking them if they find these 15 minutes to be a waste of time, but they say ‚No, definitely don’t stop it!'“

Wrona sees the program as only good for the company,and applauds the top-down approach. „We had 25 top people who learned to listen more actively, and that is enough to change a culture. If we communicate downwards in an effective way, then people see it and unconsciously copy it. You can tell welders to listen empathetically, but they’re wondering what’s for dinner. You’ve got to start at top. We’ve tried it before but started lower down. I think that was a mistake.“

Becoming an EQ company

Generally everyone, including Fortaco’s skeptics, believe that becoming an EQ company has value, that being a good leader in heavy industry goes well beyond technical skills. “It’s about helping everyone see the individual,” says Sjölund.

Sjölund cites a Cap Gemini study that confirms the need for tech people to develop emotional skills. “This and other studies that show emotional intelligence is the most important thing that employers will look for in the future. To lean on one’s IQ or technical skills will simply not suffice. In the future, many skills will be replaced by AI, and only 10 to 15 percent of work will be attributed to technical- or professional competence. The rest is EI.“

This was consistent with the impressions of Fortaco Group’s CFO, Kimmo Raunio, who participated in Fortaco’s EQ exercise. „As a curious person, I’m interested in how I behave and why. EI is something you can influence and learn, not something that either exists or doesn’t. Since the exercise I’ve been trying to remain quiet, to listen more, and allow others freedom to lead the discussion. I’m still leading; I’m just stepping back a bit.“

Walking the talk

But just because companies recognize the value of EI doesn’t mean they’ll do anything about it. “Seventy percent of people claim to want to improve their EQ,” says Sjölund. “But only one in five companies support their employees in doing that. Over 75 percent of companies say that they can train their people, but it does not get done. Sure, there are written policy documents and company values, but few seem to walk the talk.”

Lars Hellberg, Fortaco’s President and CEO, views emotional intelligence as a critical component of Fortaco’s assets. “A company has three key assets: brand, customers and people,” says Hellberg. “To be successful, you can’t neglect any one of them.” For Hellberg, “people” means roles and responsibility, competitive benefits, and a nice working environment that includes the team and colleagues. “However, what is frequently missed is the individual emotional feeling and situation. Emotional intelligence is very important. If you can recognize that, and openly discuss and develop it, then your emotions and feelings can make a major difference.”

Hellberg has been impressed by the change he’s seen with Fortaco’s top-down approach, and he’s ready to expand it in the organization. “We worked with EQ Europe to understand and improve the individual performance and well-being of our top management. We added regular workshops and individual coaching sessions. And now our next step is to offer the program to middle managers.”

“I see that most of the participants are now more confident, better team players, and enjoy the hard work they do daily,” says Hellberg. “I can only recommend that others join the journey.”