Bridging the gap between business and emotional intelligence

Oct 11, 2018

The Newman University School of Business is integrating a comprehensive emphasis on emotional intelligence into its curriculum in order to produce more well-rounded graduates.

Dean of the School of Business Brett Andrews has a goal of becoming the No. 1 private business school in the state of Kansas. “In order to do that,” he said, “we need to hear from the businesses in our community that hire our graduates.”

The dialogue between the two has been about finding the gaps in the system between the skills employers are looking for versus the skills that graduates actually possess.

“As we’ve been out having this conversation with lots of businesses in town, we continue to hear that the basis of that skills gap rests not only in their technical capacity but also in their ability to work with and through other people,” Andrews said. “That gave me the vision to say that we are going to intentionally build into the curriculum an assessment process in their first two years so that we completely build an awareness of what that person’s strengths and weaknesses are. And then, much like a degree plan, fill out a growth plan for them in their professional soft skills skill set.”

Brett Andrews, dean of the School of Business

Brian Epperson, graduate program director for the School of Business, and David Cochran, digital communications and data analytics professor, are working with Andrews to change the School of Business curriculum to better fit the needs of future employers.

Epperson is an expert in emotional intelligence (EQ) and leadership training while Cochran is a technical expert in analytics and web design with a doctorate in communication.

All three, along with other School of Business faculty, have done thorough research to decipher what skills graduates are lacking in the workforce and what Newman can do to bridge that gap.

When speaking with local and national businesses, Cochran was surprised to hear that some rate technical skills and communication skills as being equally important. This helped him realize, “It’s obviously important to have the technical skill set — but at the same time if they can’t communicate well and work well with a team or communicate to the vice president and work well with clients, it really doesn’t work. So I’m glad to be here in this context because I get to be in a place where the vision is to accomplish both.”

Epperson explained that with such a vast amount of information at our fingertips, the amount you know may not play such a large role in helping you stand out in the workplace anymore.

“In the corporate world, we all know how to pass, catch, run the ball — we all know that. So everyone’s equal from a knowledge perspective but what’s differentiating is dynamics of the relationships and emotional intelligence,” he said.

Students in any degree get their entry-level position based on the important core skills that they learn at Newman. “Emotional intelligence and the ability to lead among your peers, that’s what makes the difference once you’re in,” said Cochran.

Epperson said businesses often plan to train individuals on the technical skills the way they want “but they can’t train them how to communicate, how to relate with one another or how to translate ideas of code to a business person that doesn’t know the first thing about it. That, for them, is a highly sought-after competency set.”

In the workplace, it’s important for employees to be able to condense complicated information in a way that makes sense to others in order to bring change and drive projects forward. Courses at Newman will begin to place a higher value on students’ ability to do so.

Cochran added, “This new emotional intelligence emphasis is going to impact all of our business majors, from accounting to marketing to IT to the new business and strategic intelligence degree to the upcoming business data analytics degree.”

Epperson agreed, “It’s fine and dandy to know everything but the ability to communicate it in a way that makes sense to business leaders is very important.”

He mentioned that it takes self-reflection and self-awareness to accomplish EQ, and the professors at Newman plan to do all they can to best prepare students to succeed in that manner.

David Cochran
David Cochran, digital communications & data analytics professor

With the intention to roll out a data analytics degree in fall 2019, Cochran looks forward to weaving communication and EQ material into those courses. He plans to highly prioritize teaching his students’ the importance of clearly communicating the meaning of their data once they’ve interpreted it.

He said, “Making sense of it and finding knowledge from it is a game-changer and can make the difference between succeeding wonderfully as a business or failing.”

As for implementing the new components into the curriculum, Andrews said, “Each and every student gets a complete battery of assessments that help them take that first step — and that is to become aware of where they are right now. And it’s only from there that we’re able to build an individualized program for that particular student to increase their skill and that ability to navigate the emotional space in a work environment.”

Cochran added, “There will be a consistent emphasis on communicating in a way that can be heard and understood. And really this is all about producing well-rounded people. A person that’s operating from a wholeness in a sense. Someone with their feet on the ground that has a well-rounded approach to the world and the people around them, and a certain degree of confidence.”

The School of Business is spending this year building communication and EQ concepts into the undergraduate program. It is also working to revise the graduate program curriculum to include the communication and EQ concepts in a more prominent manner. This initiative will be fully integrated into all business courses by fall 2019.