In our last post, we looked at management soft skills, the fact they are being overlooked in favour of ‘hard skills’, and the potential reasons why. Now, we are looking at signs you are lacking soft skills in your company, the impact this has on the organisation, and how to deal with it.
What are the common signs of a lack of management soft skills?
- Deadlines keep getting missed or pushed back.
This is a major sign that staff could benefit from soft skills training related to time and self-management.
- Poor prioritisation.
This is often mistaken for staff ‘wanting to do their own thing’, or not listening to management. But more likely, it’s that they haven’t recognised the ‘big picture’ and how their work contributes to it. Critical thinking skills are necessary here to evaluate and prioritise tasks and options and to feel empowered to make the right decisions.
- Sales and Marketing: Not Generating Enough Sales or Leads.
A salesperson can have the best technical knowledge in their field, but if they aren’t strong in the art of persuasion or public speaking, they will struggle to hit their targets.
Unchallenged over the quality/quantity of work they produce, people may take the easy route and simply ‘sail along’ at a similar rate of productivity. If they aren’t developed or coached effectively, they are at risk of becoming too comfortable and under-performing.
- Teams Working in Silos.
Teamwork is paramount for success, but so too is cross-teamwork. The sales team must work with the marketing team to get the branding right, just as the customer service team must pass feedback on to the product managers. Efficient collaboration requires soft skills such as good communication, active listening, giving clear feedback, and negotiation. When teams work in silos, things start to slip.
- A Drop in Customer Satisfaction or Retention.
Customer satisfaction comes when customers feel they have been listened to and understood. Effective communication is a vital soft skill that companies don’t place enough emphasis on. If you fail to communicate well with your customers, you will experience a drop in sales and potentially lose customers.
- Increased Friction Between Staff and Teams.
Both substantiative conflicts (due to work tasks, goals, and allocation of resources) and emotional conflicts (from jealousy, annoyance, and personality conflicts) need to be dealt with effectively. They require a broad range of soft skills, including leadership, clarity, and collaboration. When difficult situations are neglected, tensions begin to bubble and can be detrimental to a business and its people.
- Staff Suffering Burnout.
Emotional and physical exhaustion from burnout can cause cynicism, lack of engagement and alignment, and failure to execute daily tasks. It can result from a lack of control, unclear expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, and poor work-life balance. Soft skills such as resilience, a positive mindset, and adaptability are key here. Unaddressed, burnout has a considerable financial impact on a business in terms of lack of productivity, sickness leave, and employee retention rates, as many people choose to leave, seeking a better culture elsewhere.
The impact of neglecting soft skills
Without soft skills such as effective communication, managers don’t;
- Step outside their comfort zone.
- Have a difficult conversation.
- Face confrontation.
- Notice when issues arise.
Consequently, they don’t provide feedback or handle things appropriately;
- When something goes wrong.
- When someone is underperforming.
- When issues arise between staff.
If a manager ignores an underperforming employee, it disgruntles the hard-working ones. Similarly, not taking time to monitor what’s happening on the front line to better understand issues among people creates distrust and resentment. Culture takes a serious hit. You can learn more about this particular outcome in our blog, ‘rewarding good work with more work.’
When managers lack soft skills, mentoring may suffer, too, as they might not;
- publicly commend staff.
- offer praise or words of encouragement when it’s deserved.
- have a natural coaching ability.
- offer the relevant direction and development necessary for growth.
The result can be disillusioned employees suffering a loss of motivation, and these are not exactly the type of characteristics you’d like to be associated with your organisation’s culture. When this happens, things begin to unravel;
- Sickness leave increases due to stress/anxiety.
- Productivity goes down.
- People look elsewhere for a better workplace culture.
- The company attrition rate increases.
All of these outcomes hit company pockets hard, as well as the personal impact on its people.
Some Telling Statistics…
McKinsey & Company surveyed over 13,000 employees across 6 different countries (the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, India, and Singapore) between 2021 and 2022 to establish the most common reasons people quit their jobs.
Every reason cited above could be attributed to management’s lack of soft skills. The link is obvious with some, e.g., uninspiring leaders/unsupportive colleagues and unsuitable work expectations. Others may appear to be unavoidable, e.g., inadequate compensation, but even this could be indirectly linked as an emotionally intelligent manager would be quicker to notice this dissatisfaction and more effective at developing these people, helping them achieve that higher pay grade sooner.
What is the Answer?
Companies must wake up and accept that soft skills are equally, if not more, important than hard skills. They benefit people for their entire careers and allow companies to flourish. The organisational benefits they bring to companies include;
- Strong relationships – with improved communication skills
People can cope better with constructive criticism, conflict, decision-making, and stress when they have the necessary tools and training to do so.
- Effective collaboration
Different teams are more likely to collaborate effectively with one another on projects that improve critical thinking and problem-solving.
- A positive work culture
When people have their interpersonal needs met, they feel aligned with the organisation as a whole and this alignment will be widespread across the company.
- Agile and cross-functional teams
The pairing of people with different levels of experience is beneficial to both parties and the company as new ideas are generated that wouldn’t otherwise have been.
- Employee engagement/retention
When people feel heard, understood, and supported by effective leaders, they feel engaged, give 100% and stick around.
People who are supported and encouraged to develop their ideas will feel safe to become more innovative, offering creative suggestions and improvements in how to change things.
Now, we aren’t going to sit here and lie to you, saying this is an easy task. Any organisation that promises you results overnight, please run! Teaching and embedding these soft skills in people often requires individuals to confront behaviours, habits and mindsets they have been actively enforcing for the majority of their adult lives. Think about that friend who’s always late, or maybe that friend is you; now think about how difficult it would be to rewire the way that they approach time management. A two-hour online course is not going to cut it. Luckily for you, mindset change is bread and butter. So here’s how we would go about it:
Organisations should begin by conducting an assessment of their soft skills gap. As explained, this is challenging given the lack of measurement for these skills, in terms of evaluation and certification. McKinsey suggests HR departments “must be equipped with a framework that codifies soft skills and defines their respective evaluation criteria”.
Leaders go first. If your direct report has no soft skills and doesn’t manage you by using soft skills, how can they coach/mentor you and hold you to account when they are not able or willing to demonstrate this behaviour. It is about command and control.
Several European firms are using “stepping stones” projects to build a digital platform enabling employees to evaluate their soft skills and understand their strengths and development needs. This leads to them gaining access to specific training and certification.
Companies must build soft skills training into their leadership and development strategy. Incorporating them into their culture will make a huge difference.
They can do so using the following;
- Psychometric tools.
- 360-degree feedback scheme.
- A full coaching and mentoring programme.
Soft skills can weaken over time if not properly used. They won’t be developed fully in a one-off webinar session. They should be practised continuously to remain efficient. A blend of traditional learning, such as digital courses, with non-traditional learning like peer coaching.
Experiential learning (learning by doing) is an ideal way to cement this kind of learning and to continue developing soft skills further. It allows people to access real-time coaching and feedback and improve their communication skills.
A well-known retail giant has distributed over 17,000 virtual reality headsets that immerse employees in unfamiliar situations, such as their first Black Friday sales day and is training them in new tech, soft skills, and compliance.
Rewards and Incentives
Humans thrive on rewards and operate based on incentives. These are critical to encourage people to continue with their soft skills journey. Digital badges can be used to reward people for completing training sessions. They show a progression through levels of expertise for that individual, which can also be motivation for other employees.
It’s not enough to train your current employees. Given today’s climate, where soft skills are a must, organisations must ensure the new talent they attract already possesses these skills. It’s not easy and involves specific questions that elicit revealing responses. Situational judgment tests can also be used where the interviewer puts the candidate in a hypothetical scenario, such as a customer call, and asks how they would deal with it.
It sounds straightforward, but even if you commit to doing it, building soft skills into your organisation can be a huge undertaking. Too often, companies start with good intentions, which fall away as other priorities take over. External help from experts is recommended to ensure your managers and people develop their soft skills to reach their full potential. Your company will thank you for it.
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