The skills needed for success at one level in an organization do not necessarily qualify you to be successful at the next. For example, promoting your best salesperson to sales manager is not always a good idea, because not only do you lose your best salesperson, but you often wind up with a mediocre sales manager as well. It’s not always the case, but it’s more common than not.
Great front-line employees learn the nuances of the raw product and the processes required to achieve an expected outcome, and then work diligently to achieve that outcome. They may or may not need good people skills (although it almost always helps for most jobs). However, at the managerial and supervisory level, advanced people skills are much more important, and for many it is a completely new skill set. To be successful, managers must learn the nuances of the people on their team and also master the skill of communicating with others to make processes more efficient. Additionally, they must learn to train front-line employees, a totally new but necessary skill set for many.
These are essential skills for supervisors, yet how many management training programs emphasize them? Too many management training classes place their focus on the “hard” skills of budgeting, goal setting and scheduling. These are necessary, but if you’re looking for management training, I strongly recommend finding something that includes employee interaction and training skills in the core curriculum. I also believe managers should be taught how to create job descriptions, as that way they become intimately acquainted with what employees are expected to do.
The emphasis of equating people skills with core skills is not new. A study commissioned by the National Science Foundation centered on what skills were most needed in the workplace. Focus groups could not say enough about the importance of interpersonal skills – identified as human relations skills, knowing how to deal with people and getting along with others. The focus groups discovered that “given a choice of technical skills or interpersonal skills, employers invariably said they would opt for interpersonal skills. Employees who lacked interpersonal skills either did not last long in an organization or presented problems to their managers, who had to spend an inordinate amount of time working with them to develop such skills.”
Unfortunately, many leaders erroneously assume that managers should automatically know how to get along with and how to train others. Sadly, this is not the case.
The other erroneous assumption is that decades of interpersonal habits can be turned around in a one-day traveling seminar. As a seasoned human resource development professional, allow me to state that it’s unrealistic to expect people to gain these skills in a one- or two-day workshop. Behavioral change takes more time than that. The most effective methods I’ve seen spread out such training over several months.
As an example, I recently took a company through 24 hours of core-skills management training, but we delivered it in six four-hour workshops spread over four months. The retention and application levels achieved by using that method were exponential compared to cramming all that material into three eight-hour sessions.
The managers said they enjoyed being able to take what was taught in a class, apply it to the workplace, and come back a few weeks later to build more skills. Front-line grievances went way down, and department heads were communicating in ways they’d only hoped for previously.
We could isolate all the various return on investment factors, but the grievance reduction alone had a positive effect on their bottom line. In fact, another company I worked with saw a 68 percent reduction in grievances (from seven to 10 per month to two or three per month) after just six four-hour sessions. At $6,500 per grievance, that’s a huge financial benefit.
Beyond the management/supervisory level is the leadership level, and again, an entirely new skill set is required to be successful there. Leaders are responsible for developing and communicating the vision, getting feedback, and making whatever adjustments are needed for optimal success in the strategic plan. They must also be aware of what skills and equipment are needed to reach the organization’s goals and provide training and tools when necessary.
Again, these skills rarely come via osmosis, so leaders (and aspiring leaders) will increase their chances for success if they master these skills. Many stellar managers have been promoted to leadership only to fail because they never acquired core leadership skills.
Whenever you have a multi-tiered organization, each level requires its own set of skills. Whatever you call them, unique core skills are needed at each level to increase productivity, effectiveness and profitability. So make it part of your culture to build these skills at all levels. Not only is it a good financial investment, but it also increases your chances of overall success.
Dan Bobinski is a best-selling author and president of Online Train the Trainer, where he teaches managers and leaders to think and act more like trainers. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.