Exactly What Is Emotional Intelligence Anyway?

It is easy to get caught up in the hype of catch phrases that travel around the conference room.  As business people, we tend to want to use a flashy term that is fresh to gain attention and perhaps put a fresh spin on an old idea.  Sometimes, we simply want to use a term that we have continuously heard used in corporate settings.  In particular, one phrase I hear too often misused is Emotional Intelligence.  It is one of the most frequently inadequately defined terms I hear, especially when used to describe either sales or management techniques.  Most commonly I hear people using and defining EI as nothing more than simple self-awareness.  The term Emotional Intelligence, sometimes called EQ or Emotional Quotient, has been in use for well over 20 years now.  However, it continues to gain in popularity in corporate settings.  The time seems ripe to provide a bit of a background and overview.

The truth is that it is not necessarily the fault of laypeople when they incorrectly define and apply EI.  Authorities in the peer-reviewed literature actually fail to agree on one standard definition of EI.  Divergent viewpoints are quite common in the literature and unfortunately there is currently no measurement of EI that passes the rigorous psychometric standards of many personality assessments.  There is currently no measure of EI that is acceptable for use in employee selection.  Many measures should probably not be applied in developmental efforts either.  However, there are 2 approaches that serve as the basis for the most widely studied measures currently in use that will help to elucidate what EI is beyond simple self-awareness.

1.  The most popular and widely applied in organizational settings approach is what is known as the “mixed-model” approach.  It is called “mixed” because it is a mixture of some classic personality traits and Emotional Intelligence abilities.  Many of these approaches break down EI into 4 main components as follows:

  • Self-Awareness – this is ability to read one’s own emotions and to recognize their impact while using those “gut” feelings to guide decisions
  • Self-Management – which involves controlling one’s own emotions and impulses and adapting them to changing circumstances
  • Social Awareness – which is the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while also maintaining an understanding of social networks
  • Relationship Management – this is the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict

2.  The other is the Ability Based Model which is much more academic in practice and theoretical basis.  Also, measurement of Ability-Based EI tends to be more difficult and does not lend itself to self-report type instruments which are of course, the easiest to administer.  The distinguishing factor for pure Ability-Based EI is that EI is defined as a type of intelligence and is innate.  In short, it can not be developed.  There is a much more cut-and-dry background to this theoretical basis which also tends to limit its utility and application in a business setting.  The Ability-Based definition is as follows:

  • “The capacity to reason about emotions, and of emotions to enhance thinking.  It includes the abilities to accurately perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions, so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to effectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”  (Mayer & Salovey, 1997)

As you can see, although the approaches to measurement of EI may be very different academically, the 2 approaches describe a similar entity.  Further, this entity is considerably more than being self-aware.  Rather, it is about managing one’s own emotions and effectively managing relationships.  The draw of being able to measure an individual’s capacity for such a thing is certainly understandable.  However, it is a “buyer beware” marketplace for certain when it comes to choosing an instrument to measure EI.  Some of the best selling and most popular EI instruments have been excessively disparaged in the literature.  If you are in the market for an EI measure, you would be wise to consult an expert such as someone with a background in psychometrics.  Good test makers will always provide a technical manual of how their instrument was validated.  Having an expert review these manuals will help to lessen the chance of improperly measuring the EI of individuals in your organization.  EI tends to be a construct that carries much more emotional repercussions than personality, therefore, it is all the more important to do your diligent research when selecting a tool.


Regrettable Losses

I wish I could tell you that we at ECI have the answers to every organizational issue you can raise, but this is simply not the truth.  From time to time, we have to let people go and we have people we wish would have stayed, move on to other jobs.  In each instance, we always wish our former team mates well, and try to assess what we could have done differently to maximize the individual’s potentials.

As one of our writers pointed out a few posts ago, the reason most people start looking for a new position is that they are feeling as if they don’t “fit” within the roles to which they are assigned.  The easy “misfits” to recognize are the people who can’t seem to understand what the assignment is, or they can’t get things done, or who dive too deeply into the complex details of their work, thereby missing the “forest for the trees” at the end of the day.  Sometimes, this is a matter of coaching and teaching to build the confidence needed to get the job done.  Other times, this is a matter of egos, and something you probably won’t be able to resolve.

The more difficult ones to recognize are the people whose work is so superior that you believe everything is stellar.  You know the person might be a bit stressed, but since they do so well with your customers and rarely need support, you keep telling yourself that things are fine.  You listen to your clients telling you what a good job this person is doing and figure that, because of this, the person is fully gratified in the role.

You find yourself particularly shocked when these individuals tell you they have found another job and will be leaving soon.  After the fact, you go back and you look at the results of the good performer’s ECI Behavioral Insight and start questioning yourself because you knew this all along.  The results tell you that this person likes a stable environment, where an orderly approach is in play.  They prefer knowing the rules and having everyone abide by these within the team.  They take pride in devising a process, then using the process in new projects, since it worked so well the last time.  They don’t like having to invent thinking for every project that comes along.  Because of the high standards they set for themselves, their chances of feeling fulfilled in such an unpredictable environment as exists at ECI for the long term term are probably somewhat limited.

In these cases, you just have to be thankful for having the person with you for a time and hope that the experience provided good learning and growth.  And of course, you always keep in touch with them to follow their progress into new places.

Diversity and Cultural Fit

We often hear about leaders of companies who avoid the use of assessment tools because they believe that these tools could screen out diverse candidates and could expose their organizations to lawsuits.  Is this true or false?

The answer to that one is, it depends….If you utilize a tool that is not well constructed and tends to score populations or groups differently, then the answer is probably true.  This is why you need to do some diligence before instituting the use of any tools within your talent management systems.  Avoid the use of tools that must be hand-scored or interpreted by an individual, as these may generate rater bias.  Styles inventories are fine for development and team building, but should not be used for selection purposes.  Tests that are easy to fake, such as word inventories (which statement/term is most or least like you) should also be avoided, unless the test documentation can provide high reliability and validity.

Be sure to ask the test provider for the technical report or validation study before introducing any new tool within your company and have that report reviewed by someone familiar with testing to ensure that the findings are sufficient to demonstrate reliability and validity.  Also, ask about disparate impact on protected classes to see what studies have been done and what proof the test provider can offer you that the tool does not discriminate.

The research around the importance of cultural fit could cause companies to put diversity aside in favor of only hiring people who match a particular success model, since these people should have a better chance of success.  When this occurs, it is generally a result of some key factors.

  1. The test being used in fact causes disparate impact as it scores.  If it didn’t, then all people, regardless of gender, race, age, or ethnicity, who demonstrate particular preferences or tendencies will match the core factors for success.
  2. Too much emphasis is being placed upon the results of the test.  This is frequently a problem where training is not consistently offered in how to use test results and how not to use test results.
  3. Avoid the use of a test that produces a Recommendation – Good Match to Position, Poor Match to Position – Recommended or Not Recommended, then you increase the chances that your managers will look at this bottom line first and put aside the information they gathered in interviews or in the work experiences.
  4. Hiring managers don’t really know what factors lead to success in a particular role or position.  They tend to look for and hire people who are more like them, rather than people who demonstrate the core factors for success for a particular role.

Note that we’re talking about core factors for success.  If you want to encourage diversity, stick to the core factors for success and hire people who are motivated by the work and the general milieu of your culture, rather than they possess one or two key traits that you know are common to people in your company.  We once had a client who refused to look at any candidate who didn’t have a score of 50% or higher on Pace/Urgency.  We had to do a good deal of education to show that Pace/Urgency wasn’t the only core factor for success.

Put less emphasis on secondary style factors, and avoid doing as our client above did, unless you are driving change in your culture.  If you need people with more initiative, then look for individuals who possess independence, high energy, a bit more tendency to take risks and who are quite flexible.  These tendencies are all readily measurable in a good personality assessment.  Once your new hires are on the job, however, make sure to manage them as they need to be managed, or they will soon move elsewhere!

If you follow these simple principles, then you will be able to hire a diverse population who are a cultural fit with your organization.  Using good assessment tools isn’t something you need to be afraid of.  Consider Home Depot.  The EEOC recommended that they include such measures to help hiring managers make better hiring decisions on the basis of more objective information, after a suit of discrimination was raised.

“Fit”…a Two-Way Street

What does it mean to find an employee that truly “fits” your organization?  What does a good “fit” look like from the perspective of the applicant?  Organizational fit, job fit, and motivational fit are key factors that drive how new employees will assimilate to the work environment, mesh with the corporate culture, as well as how the individual will perform in their role.

Meet Jim, an aspiring sales executive with background in the finance industry.  Jim is looking to gain exposure outside of the financial industry and to attain a role that moves him up the proverbial “ladder”.  In the finance industry, Jim excelled in various sales roles, acquiring greater levels of responsibility very quickly.  He has thrived in the structured, regulation-driven environment in which his company operated within the industry.  Looking to expand upon his professional resume, Jim is now exploring employment with organizations across various industries.  Although Jim’s experience has primarily come within the finance industry, he believes that he can easily transfer his knowledge and skills to a different environment.

What is the best fit for Jim? Organizations, of course, are very focused on finding the ideal fit for not only the role they are hiring for, based on skills and experiences, but also for a good match to the organizational environment and culture.  But how many companies focus on ensuring that their role, corporate environment, and organizational culture are truly an ideal fit for the applicant?  It is easy to assume that if we, the organization, find the ideal fit then the organization must be a perfect fit for the individual as well.  Unfortunately, this assumption may be inaccurate at times.  Applicants are eager to make a good impression during their interview and may have the propensity to sacrifice concerns or misgivings of their fit to the role or the organization in order to give the “correct” answer or tell the interviewer what it is they think they want to hear.

Going back to our friend, Jim…Jim is interviewing for a sales manager role with a successful computer system design company.  The company is a trend-setting, forward-thinking organization focused on innovation and leading the way in the industry.  Jim has had some qualms over whether or not he would be comfortable working in such an “outside the box” environment.  His previous experience was in a very structured, guidelines-driven environment which he thoroughly enjoyed and felt comfortable in.  Although he questions his fit to the computer system design company, he goes forward with the interview and is hired.  Nine months later, Jim is living in a land of ambiguity and is surrounded by creative minds who are more comfortable “bending the rules” than abiding by them.  Jim is not comfortable in his position nor in the organizational environment which is a stark contrast to his ideal work situation.  Jim is back on the search for a role and company that is truly a good fit for him.

Jim’s situation is not an uncommon one.  This “mis-fit” between applicant and environment results in reduced morale, job satisfaction, as well as increased absenteeism and turnover.  This costs the organization time and money on hiring, on-boarding, and training processes while costing the employee stress, time out of work, and emotional well-being.  But how in the world do companies figure out if the two-way street of “fit” is in alignment?  Interviews and supporting hiring tools, such as personality inventories, can be invaluable to ensuring this alignment.  Although neither is a “magic elixir”, asking very detailed, targeted interview questions that uncover the individual’s work and style preferences can uncover critical information needed to determine fit.  Moreover, personality inventories, such as the ECI Behavioral Insight, provide the interviewer with information about the candidate that extends beyond the skills and experiences commonly found on the resume.  Personality assessments allow the hiring manager to gain insight into the innate behavioral tendencies of the applicant, including information regarding natural motivators and drivers.  Where these motivations strongly differ from the work environment or characteristics of the role, the interviewer can probe to gain a better understanding of the potential misalignment between the candidate and the role/organization.

“Fit” issues are a major concern for organizations due to the tremendous costs companies incur after a bad hire.  It is important for organizations to take a holistic approach and consider concerns of “fit” from not only the perspective of the company, but also that of the applicant.  For more information about job, organization, or motivational fit or the ECI Behavioral Insight, send us an email or give us a call!

What is my company’s culture and why does it matter?

The culture that exists within a company is something that many people may not pay attention to on a day to day basis.  However, it is an element of your organization that should not be overlooked.  It is an element that can make all of the difference when introducing your company to a potential hire.  A targeted description of the values and practices your company ascribes to as it conducts business can be very illustrative, time saving, and cost effective.  A lack of fit between an employee’s work preferences and goals and a company’s culture can cause an endless stream of discord.  Discord leads to a lack of productivity at best, and high turnover at worst.  It is easy to see the financial implications of both. 


At ECI, we regularly conduct studies of organizations in our efforts to assist in the reduction of turnover.  All too often the findings of these studies reveal undefined culture and divergent viewpoints among leadership.  In order to avoid cultural lack of fit the first place to begin is of course, the most obvious, to define your company’s culture.  Culture should be a topic on meeting agendas regularly.  It does tend to evolve with marketplace shifts, other external factors, and especially changes in personnel, so it should be discussed and agreed upon biannually.  An objective 3rd party study is a very effective, but not absolutely necessary, way to determine and define your organization’s culture.  You can quite simply gather your leadership and have a round table discussion with your vision and mission statements as starting points.  You may actually find that there is discord between your mission and vision and leaderships’ collective viewpoints of the current culture.  If this is the case, the time is ripe to embark on an initiative that re-aligns your company’s culture with the values of its employees.  Researchers report that companies with alignment between their mission and vision and culture are at least twice as successful as others.


One simple way to either preserve or adjust your company’s culture moving forward is through the administration of a personality assessment.  Valid and reliable assessments reveal the innate motivators and drivers of individuals.  You can adapt your culture by identifying what works well within your organization, then defining those traits that are common among your top performers.  You can then manage lesser performers more appropriately by gaining an understanding of where, how, and why these lesser performers are inherently different.  Additionally, moving forward, hiring to a profile that leads to success and aligns to your culture will create greater cohesiveness among your teams. 


Skills, knowledge, and experience are rather straight forward aspects of an individual to measure and assess.  These elements of a candidate are fairly easy to evaluate during an interview, reference check, or even a simple resume screen.  However, it is the more personal, value-based aspects of employee and organization that determine success or failure of fit.  The importance of alignment between your company’s culture and the values and goals of your employees should never be underestimated.

Part 2: Devising Selection Standards for Hiring New Staff

Adverse impact occurs where there is a statistically significant difference between selection, promotional, or compensation levels between members of a protected class and an appropriate comparison group.[1] However, according to the 1991 Civil Rights Act, this difference only amounts to discrimination if the tools used to make the business decision are invalid and not consistent with business necessity.  In other words, numerical and significant differences between the selection rates of groups are allowed, as long as the tools responsible for those differences are in and of themselves valid and reliable and have been developed following a rigid, standard, and legally defensible validation strategy.  But the employer is still responsible to show how the test is job-related and meets a business necessity, even in these cases.

Since the release of the April 2008 OFCCP guidelines update and some recent case law, the determination process now includes looking at the actual tools and systems used within the selection and promotion systems.  Validity and reliability tests will be completed by OFCCP’s new statisticians on these tools to ensure that they do not treat protected classes differently than they treat comparison groups.   In the old days, OFCCP audits were not too bad.  Today, they look like the process EEOC uses to evaluate disparate impact.

This new OFCCP analysis for disparate impact includes a thorough review of:

  1. the Job Analysis results in which the skills, knowledge and abilities and personal characteristics were evaluated within a particular job are identified
  2. how these skills, knowledge and abilities map back to the specific steps of the selection, promotion or termination processes
  3. how tests that are administered in fact measure the skills, knowledge or abilities essential for success in the position
  4. the job description, to ensure that it is current and accurately reflects the essential functions the position  within the company’s own environment

This much more rigorous assessment of selection, promotional and termination criteria could cause significant difficulties for many employers who are relying on old, non-existent practices or those who allow their hiring managers to utilize their own preferred processes.

The environment is further compounded through the use of popular internet selection systems, where potential candidates are allowed to apply for any job opening or can post their resumes on job sites whether they meet the stated qualifications or not.  Job seekers can perform searches to attach their resume to any number of open and advertised positions, with little consideration for the job title or understanding the selection process of the company offering the position.  Recent guidelines hold the potential employer accountable to track race, age, gender, and ethnicity data about all applicants.  This is why, at ECI, we added the tracking criteria to our eci-assessments site for all test takers.  When employers need the data, it will be available for all candidates who reached the assessment step.

In the absence of clear definition of an “applicant” by the employer, potential problems arise in determining how to track candidate data and determining whether the applicant is in fact even interested in being considered for the position.   When employers have no standardized steps in their selection process, if the selection criteria is vague or if the steps are very loose, then almost every person who provides information may be considered a viable candidate for the job opening, regardless of whether they meet the qualifications for the job or not.

While the OFCCP has recently released guidelines on who internet “applicants” are, these guidelines are quite broad and can be troublesome when the employer has no additional, consistent steps through which all applicants must pass before becoming a candidate for consideration.  Having in place a selection process that includes multiple, valid, job-specific criteria against which applicants are assessed is the first step, but not the only step necessary to comply.[2]

Many companies incorporate on-line, computer or paper-based testing within their processes to evaluate a candidate’s particular knowledge, behavioral skills and abilities.  Any tests that you use should meet the standards for testing set out by the American Psychological Association and should follow the guidelines set forth by the EEOC.  Online tests fall under the same rigorous standards as do all other types of tests used for selection.

Best practices for testing and selection cited by the EEOC[3] include:

1. Employers should administer tests and other selection procedures without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (40 or older), or disability.

2. Employers should ensure that employment tests and other selection procedures are properly validated for the positions and purposes for which they are used.  The test or selection procedure must be job-related and its results appropriate for the employer’s purpose.  While a test vendor’s documentation supporting the validity of a test may be helpful, the employer is still responsible for ensuring that its tests are valid under the Uniform Guidelines for Employment Selection Procedures.[4]

3. If a selection procedure screens out a protected group, the employer should determine whether there is an equally effective alternative selection procedure that has less adverse impact and, if so, adopt the alternative procedure.  For example, if the selection procedure is a test, the employer should determine whether another test would predict job performance, but not disproportionally exclude the protected group.

4. To ensure that a test or selection procedure remains predictive of success in a job, employers should keep abreast of changes in job requirements and should update the test specifications or selection procedures accordingly.

5. Employers such ensure that tests and selection procedures are not adopted casually by managers who know little about these processes.  A test or selection procedure can be an effective management tool, but no tool or selection procedure should be implemented without an understanding of its effectiveness and limitations for the organization, its appropriateness for a specific job, and whether it can be appropriately administered and score.

Or is your test used as a tool to provide additional information to support your interview process?  In either case, the

results from any test should not make up more than 20% of the hiring decision in order to comply with fair selection

standards.  The results from tests, such as personality measures, can enhance the reliability and validity of your

processes, providing that these tests have been professionally prepared and rigorously validated.  Ensuring that any

tests you administer are in fact valid and reliable, and that they are shown to be valid and reliable against your own

population and environment, are additional steps you will need to complete.

It is no longer acceptable to take the word of your outside test or system provider that tools or a criterion is valid.  You will need to ask to see the diligence that went into validation and reliability studies by requesting the technical report or validation report for these tools.  These reports should include item analysis, EEO scores comparison for protected classes, show that no disparate impact results through the administration of the tool, and should provide statistical data concerning face validity and content reliability, all based on a statistically significant population of results.  If no report is available, or the study lacks rigor, you should immediately find another, more valid assessment tool.

Also, your test or system provider should have professional experts who can revalidate their tools against your jobs and in your own environment.  They should be able to show that no adverse impact occurs as a result of the use of their tools for your particular jobs through a statistical study process. If your providers cannot do this for you, look for another vendor.

[1] EEO & Testing Quarterly Review. HR News & Information (July – Sept 2004) p. 3.

[2] For additional information, visit the US Department of Labor website at www.dol.gov

[3] Fact Sheet on Employment Tests and Selection Procedures, www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/factemployment_procddures.html.   Pg. 5

[4]The US Department of Labor and Justice and the Office of Personnel Management issued the UGESP.  A copy of the regulations are available online through http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs.html

Part I: How To Increase The Quality of Your New Hires

Companies are increasingly seeking out ways to enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of their hiring and promotional processes.  They are exploring the use of a variety of tests and measures to gather the information they need to make better decisions.  They look to tests to help them increase objectivity within their processes and to get to the root of an individual’s real talents and potentials.

Employers worry that if they put a test into their selection or promotional process that managers will rely too heavily on the results.  This can be a pitfall of such tools, since most well-constructed tests tend to be quite accurate in the results they produce.  If the selection process lacks sufficient steps, or if the steps are not effective, managers probably will resort to trusting the test to make the decision.

With the recent release of the OFCCP and EEO updated selection guidelines, new rigor is required for any selection or promotional system, including test validation.  “Validation” used to mean “we put together focus groups of our best employees, who provided their ideas on what success looks like in our own environment.  We used that input to develop our selection system and/or our competency model.”

Or a testing provider would suggest that you test 5 or 10 or your top performers in a specific role and establish a selection standard based on the results.  Whereas these approaches might have been overlooked in the past, they will not meet the new guidelines established through the Department of Labor, the OFCCP or the EEO Commission. Today, validation means that your company gathered and used statistically reliable data about your jobs to create selection, promotion and career tools and decisions.  It means, for example:

  • that you have up-to-date, accurate job description for the position that includes Essential Functions, the context of the position, background and experience levels and reporting relationship
  • that you did not incorporate any process or step that has adverse impact in screening out or negatively impacting protected classes either in selecting, promoting people, or establishing a dismissal process
  • that you assessed the job using objective and accepted methodology, such as ADA compliant Job Analysis
  • that you were able to determine through your data collection process the acceptable business necessity of why the criteria you are using for selection or promotion is essential to perform the job in your business environment
  • that you are able to show a clear linkage between the selection criteria you have identified to the actual steps you use within your selection or promotional processes, and finally,
  • that your selection and promotional criteria has passed a number of tests of statistical significance to show that the criteria you are using in fact does not show statistical and practical significance between protected classes and the comparison group when disparate impact is being assessed.

These are, however, only a part of the issues that you must consider as you devise selection, promotion and career processes or make decisions about the people you employ.  If your company has greater than 100 employees, and/or if you are a government supplier with contracts of more than $50K, then your company must comply with the  new OFCCP guidelines.

Tomorrow, we’ll write some more about how to develop compliant selection standards.