"The most important thing for your speed, your company and your service is internal culture," Gary Vaynerchuk, self-made millionaire and best-selling author of "#AskGaryVee," said in one of his impassioned presentations to an audience of business leaders.
His message was clear: If there's someone in your ranks who consistently causes drama or division in your team, be prepared fire them.
"I don't give a s--- if it's your number one salesperson, your best f------ developer or your co-founder. Cancer spreads — and with cancer and politics, comes lack of speed," he says.
"We are on the dawn of an era where emotional intelligence is about to become the single most important trade," Vaynerchuk explains, adding that the biggest reason companies become much slower is because people are "sitting around debating how miserable they are or worried to have meetings with other individuals."
What's interesting is that Vaynerchuk isn't the first to make this connection. A Harvard Business School study found that one of the biggest red flag personality traits in an employee is the constant need to spread negativity.
Researchers studied data on more than 50,000 employees and found that those who carry this "toxic trait" can cause a lot of damage to a company — including the loss of customers, employee morale and legitimacy among important external stakeholders. Even worse, keeping them on payroll can lead to increased turnover.
To Vaynerchuk's point, the data revealed that toxic workers are often regarded as "superstar" performers, which the researchers define as "one that models desired values and delivers consistent performance." But the study also found that while a top performer can save a company more than $5,300, getting rid of them can save a company up to $12,500.
Great company culture isn't about "having free snacks in your cafeteria" or a "foosball table," he argues. Instead, "you build culture by actually talking to people, one by one, and understanding what they care about."
It all comes down to being emotionally intelligent. If a CEO tells people he cares about them, for example, but then "looks the other way certain employees are mean to everyone," he's basically sending the message that he doesn't care about how the rest of his employees feel, explains Vaynerchuk.
If Vaynerchuk is right, and we're heading full speed into an era where the "human element" is our most important resource, then his advice extends to those beyond CEOs and business owners. No matter what age you are or what demographic cohort you're in, emotional intelligence is the one skill to master if you want to be successful.
"Skills through technology growth will continue on a daily basis to be commodotized, but your emotional capabilities and ability to interact with others will be a very, very important trade," Vaynerchuk says, implying that it's the one skill that can't be replaced in an era where artificial intelligence is drastically changing the workplace.
When scouting for new talent in the future, hiring managers will no longer view emotional intelligence as an added bonus among candidates, but as a basic requirement because it influences how self-aware a person is in their interactions with other colleagues.
If you have poor emotional intelligence and are constantly spreading negativity, chances are that you won't last very long at any company.
Vaynerchuk urged everyone in the audience to go home and do an employee audit.
"It's time for people to start paying attention to the human elements that will drive our business to the next level," he added. "This is a conversation we are not having, and it is the conversation in the next decade. "
Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter .
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