Importance of People Skills in the Workforce

Want to be an effective manager?  Having good policies and processes in place will help get the job done, but getting the most from your staff requires you to pay some attention to your people skills.  People skills are important because they tell and show others how effective you deal with many different types of individuals on a daily basis.  The wider the range of others in terms of ages, cultures and company levels that one can deal with, the better that person’s skill level.

It really does not matter which field you work in, whether it is tax, accounting, HR or marketing, the most successful individuals in each area are not necessarily the ones who had the highest university GPA or those who are the most technically gifted, but rather the top stars in each field are the ones with the best people skills.

So where can you learn or develop these soft skills?  They are not taught in school and while you can learn them on the job, that would only be the case if you work with someone with exceptional soft skills (or horrible ones) and they are  willing to mentor you to develop yours.  In school we focus all our time and energy on maximize our grades and probably spend zero time learning to effectively interact with others

Then into the workforce come these brainiacs with super-high GPA’s and they work hard and talk about how smart they are, and watch those with superior personal talents moving up the corporate ladder faster them they do. 

By the time they realize what it takes to advance in an organization, it is usually too late, as people tend to get set in their ways after being passed over by someone not as smart but who pleases everyone.  These individuals will have reached a ceiling in their fields relatively quickly in their careers.

The world, both corporate and non-corporate, desperately needs more leaders and this lack of leadership will not be filled anytime soon if the majority of the workforce is lacking in people skills. Fortunately, this problem can be addressed in two ways. For those already in the workforce, companies can utilize seminars and workshops as part of on-going professional education on these skills including diversity training. All management, current and potential candidates, should attend such development sessions or take online courses.  The result will be a much more efficient management which in turn will mean bigger profits.

The other way is to start in school and expose students at every level and as early as possible to principles of people skills. It may need to be made part of the regular curriculum. Of course, staff including teachers and professors should also be exposed to their own developmental workshops as well since they were most likely not given the opportunity during their own years as students for this type of training.

It might also help to include parents in the education process from the get go so they can foster a more balanced development for their children besides focussing the balance on education and sports / arts.  

But at some point every good manager should have that talk with their staff about their soft skills and if the staff member reacts defensively, then sign them up for all the courses because that might just be the justification you were looking for!

Are you management material?

I found an article online written by F. John Reh, entitled “How to Tell If You Are Management Material” and I read it hoping to see if it would shed some clues into why I have always thought I was.  The article, however, was a little more on the comical side then I had hoped for. 

The author presents a top ten list, David Letterman style, of clues that you are management material.  Read it as there is some truth mixed into the humour, then we’ll have a real discussion about what I think are clues;

  • 10. You like not doing anything.
  • 9. You have no trouble telling others what to do
  • 8. Work fascinates you – you can sit and watch it for hours
  • 7. You like ‘sweating the small stuff’
  • 6. You have always been something of a loner
  • 5. You don’t think ‘plan’ is a four-letter word
  • 4. Your favorite cocktail is milk of magnesia
  • 3. On Halloween you dress up as Alex P. Keating
  • 2. Your favorite horror writer is Tom PetersAnd the number one clue you are management material –
  • You enjoy having people despise you just for doing your job.

There is some truth to a few items on his list, but I think they can all be managed through perception.  Being aware of how others perceive you goes a long way towards you being able to manage that perception.  Even if you have no one else to help you, you should still be aware as to the basics expected of you by your staff.  For example;

The management style of yelling and berating staff is so 1980’s and is no longer an effective tool… Unless you want your staff to hate you.  Also unpopular among staff is the perception that they do way more work than you.  That should never happen.  Not only do you have a job to do as a manager but you are also required to lead a team, think strategically and get stuff done to a higher level on some very short time frames.  Not that I recommend whining to staff about it, they don’t know what you do all day, but sharing information with them helps them buy into the job, and feel that they are an important piece in the company.  Nothing is wrong with telling your staff your thoughts and suggestions to make their lives better.  I believe they actually appreciate it.

As for the perception of doing nothing or the concept of being hated for doing your job, I think these 2 go hand-in-hand.  If you sit in your office reading the paper, but then go home and put in 5 hours in the evening, no one is going to know about the extra work, but everyone will know about the perceived slacking during the day.  Be strategic.  If you must read the news during the day, do it online!

So back to the clues…  Here is my top 10 list;

10. You have a bigger vision of the way the company can operate more efficiently

9. You offer suggestions and ask questions surrounding process improvements and operational improvements

8. You enjoy helping others get work done and see them praised for it.

7. You are eager to achieve recognition of you direct manager and peers, in the good way. 

6.  Being respected is important.  Being a team player, also important.  Put team goals first.

5. You are able to act as a team leader / manager naturally

4. You have passion – for your current job, for the company, for everyone doing a good job.

3. You are flexible.  You can work in different areas, understand what others have to do and can thrive in your area of expertise or somewhere where you have no knowledge of the work required. 

2. You keep emotion out of the workplace

1. You treat everyone in the manner you want to be treated… With respect!  Explain to the level of understanding.  Be empathetic.  If you ever want people to work for you, and I mean WORK for you, you have to be understanding that they have lives beyond work and in their lives there are stresses.  Don’t be one too.

My thoughts… What would you add?