Investing in ‘Soft-Skills’ to Gain a Creative and Competitive Advantage -

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Investing in ‘Soft-Skills’ to Gain a Creative and Competitive Advantage

In the final part of his conversation with Dr. Martyn Newman, Jeremy Darroch –  Group CEO of Sky- explains how emotional intelligence skills have become the bedrock of creative success within the organisation.


Martyn Newman: You hear a lot of rhetoric from people wanting innovation, but once people do come together from diverse backgrounds, there can be conflict. There are quite different perspectives and views, isn’t there? And that you need to develop some sort of tolerance and patience, I guess, for those ideas to gestate and then come together.

To what extent do you think your investment in emotional intelligence skills over the last few years has provided a framework to enable people to become more self-aware of their impact on other people. And, do you think these are the sorts of skills that contribute to bringing diverse groups together and fostering creativity?


Dr. Martyn Newman
Dr. Martyn Newman

Jeremy Darroch: I think they are the absolute bedrock of our process of working, because there is creative tension, so you have to recognise that and make sure that is managed appropriately and in a way that’s stable. I think the core skills of optimism and empathy, and the ability to listen hard, are things that have really flowed from the work we’ve done on emotional intelligence and mindfulness and these are really important skill sets.

“…emotional intelligence and mindfulness …are really important skill sets.” 

They become more important as you start to work across diverse organisations, where perhaps you’re with people less frequently and you’re connecting with them for a shorter period of time. This I think has been really central to what we’ve done. Of course, we’ve taken those core modules and we’ve had all of our senior leaders and an increasing number of our less senior leaders go through them. Now what has happened, of course, is that the muscle memory of the organisation, if you like, is becoming more consistent.

Martyn Newman: Yes.

Jeremy Darroch: I can see it today. I can see the quality of conversations, the listening skills, the ability for people to seek first to understand and put themselves in that colleague’s shoes, rather than jump to what’s immediate from where they sit. It’s just getting better and better and better.

Martyn Newman: That’s so hard to do isn’t it, when people feel pressure and stress, so maybe that’s the way mindfulness works as an ability to become more aware of the stress and it’s impact on your body and on your thinking and gain some skills over managing it. It really sets people up to engage in more productive and collaborative relationships together.

I don’t think it would surprise you that when we crunched our data on a number of large groups of leaders, it turns out that the most productive leaders, those that create more innovation from their groups, score higher on three scales. For example, they score highly on self-actualisation – that’s the one that Maslow gave to us about energy, motivation and passion – so closely related to creativity. But interestingly, they also scored extremely well on relationship skills and empathy; this capacity to ensure that people are encouraged to contribute to the conversation. That everybody’s perspective is of value. Groups with these skills seem to produce far more innovative output than groups who tend to be led and dominated by strong charismatic people. Does that surprise you?

Jeremy Darroch: It doesn’t surprise me, but I also think that creating the environment where those things can happen is one of the great challenges. One of things that often makes me chuckle is that at the top of business, you’ll go to anybody and two things will typically be the case. First of all, they’ll have too much to do and the second thing is they’ll never give anything up. If you think about that, it’s a real conundrum.

Once you start to get people to think, “how can I get my colleagues, or the rest of the organisation to help me with that?”  You can then give up things to enable a better focus on the areas where you can have greater value. Suddenly, you start to make the organisation much, much quicker.

I think at the heart of it is self-actualisation, which is just so fundamental to why people join and stay with organisations. But also, listening skills, and empathy are all critical to that. Just using the organisation and your colleagues as resources, rather than barriers is a really important mindset.

“I think at the heart of it self-actualisation, which is just so fundamental to why people join and stay with organisations. But also, listening skills and empathy are all critical to that.”

You know, stress and pressures never going to go away. That’s going to exist. It’s naïve to assume that we can wish that away. Much of the pressure I see, people put on themselves, because as high achievers they want to get better. They want to be successful.

I think the way to deal with that is to really focus on self-awareness and improve people’s ability to understand the situation; understand what’s going on around them and importantly, to understand how they’re reacting to it.         

“the way to deal with that (stress) is to really focus on self-awareness and improve people’s ability to understand the situation; understand what’s going on around them and importantly, to understand how they’re reacting to it.”


Martyn Newman: There’s a lot of people listening to your comments that might say, Jeremy’s a bit soft. He’s running a large business with some hard commercial realities. You’ve got BREXIT happening and the uncertainties of the marketplace, and when that occurs, surely the skills that really will determine the future of business have a much more technical quality to them? But you’re suggesting that the skills for the future have a lot more to do with how people manage themselves and manage their stakeholder relationships. And that these are critical factors in the implementation of new initiatives or inventing new products or taking the business in a new direction. Is it as radical as that?


EQ Summit 2017 Venue
EQ Summit 2017 Venue

Jeremy Darroch: Absolutely. I think it’s always easy to think that simply by setting the right targets, the right goals, and the right sort of business process, that somehow the organisation is going to be able to sustain it’s performance in the long-term. My experience is quite the opposite. What occurs is that it can happen for a short period of time, but rapidly it runs down. Because for us, performance and success is not just one year or one quarter, it’s every year and every quarter. We don’t want to say we’ve achieved success, we want to repeat success and that requires us to really move, if you like, the performance curve to a different place.

One of the things I feel proudest about at Sky now, is that I see a set of leaders who increasingly set their own standards. I don’t need to set their standards for them anymore. They’re constantly redefining those standards. That allows me to be one step removed from that and really work on developing the environment with them in which they can achieve those goals. That’s repositioning, if you like, where the drive and direction comes from. I think when you create environments when leadership and divisions of the organisation are clear on purpose, buy the values, like the culture and know how to set their own goals and reset their goals, certainly you’ve got leverage going your way. The organisation no longer becomes an organisation that you have to push. Actually, if anything it has to be an organisation that you’ve got to hold back and say, you know, actually we shouldn’t do that, we just need to think about it this way.


“when you create environments where leadership… are clear on purpose, buy the values, like the culture, and know how to set their own goals and reset their goals, certainly you’ve got leverage going your way”


That’s really getting the power of numbers working your way. I often say, I can work at the top of our organisation and get 50% more out of my top team. That’s probably 10 people. Alternatively, I can create the environment where I can get 10% more out of everybody. That’s 3,000 people. That’s a very different capacity.

Martyn Newman: Great, so we’re almost out of time but I did want to ask you, speaking at this year’s EQ Summit we’ve got some of the biggest names in the industry, people like Daniel Goleman, the godfather of emotional intelligence. Sir Ken Robinson and I know you’ve invited Ken out to address some of your top leadership at Sky. We’ve got neuroscientists – Baroness Susan Greenfield and so on. A lot of people will be at the Summit because they really want to hear you addressing these issues, some of these challenges, and learn from your experience. I wonder Jeremy, from a personal point of view, what do you think are some of the questions that this year’s EQ summit really must address if it’s going to have lasting impact and make a difference going forward?

Jeremy Darroch: I think the questions I’ve really thought about are, how do you bring this to life in a business or an organisation? What’s the bridge between the theory of why we should do it and some of the really strong empirical underpinnings that exist? Where do I start? How do I start to roll it out? How do I get engagement across the organisation? What are some of the pitfalls?

I do think that this is an area where if you push too far, too quickly you risk losing people, so I think there’s a rate and pace around how you want to implement this that’s important. Then I think the more people that can help you understand and see some of the benefits that flow, just to build a confidence that when you actually pursue this, there’s a greater capacity you can tap into and bring some of those things to life. Some of those things are of enormous value.

Martyn Newman: That’s a great set of questions Jeremy. I think you’re right. I think we’ve got people in the room who together will address those issues very, very specifically. We’re looking forward to having your company on the day at the Summit.


Want to hear more fascinating insights from Jeremy? Get your tickets to the Summit below! There are a limited number of tickets left, so don’t miss out.  

Martyn Newman, PhD, is MD of RocheMartin who are hosting the EQ Summit in London on May 25th. The theme of this year’s Summit is ‘emotional intelligence, mindfulness and creativity’ and also features Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Goleman, Ruby Wax and Baroness Susan Greenfield.