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Evidence from neuroscience shows business managers are living a "rationality facade" by using strategy tools and are missing a key ingredient in decision making: emotion.

This research illuminates the potentially crucial role played by emotion in strategists’ mental representations of the strategic issues they confront

It has been suggested by Gerard Hodgkinson of Warwick Business School that there is a need for management to acknowledge the role of emotions and to build a new wave of tools that incorporate it into their strategic thinking if businesses' performances are to be improved.

He said: “By ignoring the crucial role played by emotion tools and techniques used to help managers reflect strategically have resulted in the creation of ‘rationality facades’. In contrast to the ‘cold cognition logic’ of these tools, our research starts from the basic premise that strategists are attached emotionally to their businesses and as such the strategic issues that could have a bearing on the future well-being and effectiveness of their business are emotionally-laden. 

"Hence, it makes sense to investigate how organisational decision-makers represent those issues in emotional terms, rather than in purely cognitive terms.”

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Drawing on the insights of behavioural neuroscience, Hodgkinson’s team asked a sample of 26 UK SME executives to list the strategic issues they were most concerned with in regards to their businesses. The researchers picked out the 19 issues most commonly mentioned such as "the current availability of skilled workers in the UK", "the bailout of European banks", "increased university tuition fees" and "asylum seekers in the UK".

A second sample of senior executives was then asked to rate each of the 19 issues in terms of how they felt about them emotionally, using a series of 16 seven-point scales. It was explained that if the managers had reflected "objectively", as implied when using standard management tools, it would have rated them about the same. However, their responses varied, confirming the researchers’ expectations that strategic issues were not being processed uniformly.

“What makes some managers feel calm fills others with anxiety, and what comforts some leaves others with a deep sense of unease,” he said. "Using sophisticated statistical analysis techniques, we identified sub-groups of managers who share highly similar perceptions and beliefs, emotionally speaking, that set them apart from their counterparts in other sub-groups.”

He added: “Managers need to reconnect with their emotional side. This research illuminates the potentially crucial role played by emotion in strategists’ mental representations of the strategic issues they confront, in an attempt to safeguard the longer-term survival of their businesses, with important implications for organisational adaptation and performance.

“In practical terms, our findings pave the way for a new generation of management strategy tools and techniques to help organisational decision makers to identify the extent to which they are in agreement emotionally, not just cognitively, with regard to the issues confronting them. This will provide an important foundation for companies and organisations to move forward in these turbulent times.”

With that in mind, does what we refer to as "emotional intelligence", "intuition", or that oh so familiar "gut feeling" need to be taught? This is a question that Ben Houghton, director and founder of Noggin, sets out to answer.

Image: Shutterstock

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