Maybe you’ve heard the truism that promoting the best salesperson to sales manager is not always a good idea. In most cases, you lose your top salesperson and you get a mediocre sales manager.
It’s just another example that the skills needed for success at one level does not qualify one to be successful at the next. In most cases, the next level up requires a different set of skills, and it works the same in just about every industry and profession.
However, even though differing skills are needed for different steps on the corporate ladder, one skill set stretches across all levels of an organization: People skills. Often times these are called “soft skills,” because they’re not technical in nature. But some human resource professionals dislike the term soft skills, believing the term downplays their importance.
In the December, 2000 edition of Computing Canada, Louisa Horn, Senior Vice President of the training organization Knowledge House, says “I always cringe when people refer to them as soft skills. Even though it’s an accepted way of referring to them, is suggests they’re kind of fluffy and they’re really not as important.”
This mindset is gaining momentum, and we are now seeing a push for soft skills to be called “core skills,” because they are at the core of organizational success. In fact, performance solutions guru Bob Pike now urges clients and HR professionals to refer to people skills as core skills.
This perspective is backed up by a recent study conducted by the American Management Association (AMA), which found that communication skills are the skills most lacking in today’s workplace, and yet they form the core of what is most needed.
The emphasis of equating people skills with core skills is not new. A study commissioned in the mid-1990’s 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.”
When it comes to core skills, many erroneously assume that employees should automatically know how to get along. Sadly, this is not the case, so managers and leaders in all organizations, large and small, should not only sit up and take notice, but stand up and take action.
One Leadership Development client, McCain Foods, USA, Inc., has done just that. They see the value of core skill training and have been equipping their managers and supervisors with core skills using a twelve-day training program spread out over six months.
David Wilson, the company’s statistical process control manager, says the company is “seeing results in the millions of dollars.” And because the program is bringing people and departments together in ways not before seen, plans are in place to modify the program and take it down to the shop floor.
Varon Blackburn, HR manager for McCain’s Othello, Washington plant, is eager for employees at all levels to build these skills. Blackburn nurtures that by integrating the learning among various levels of the organization: Supervisors and managers coach other program participants. Blackburn says, “By having one level work with another level on learning and implementing the skills, people own them more, and they practice them more. The mere fact that we’re using peer coaches creates peer pressure to use the skills.”
But it’s not just large companies that need to address core skills. The entry-level worker who answers the telephone at a local business must also know and use these skills. Ever get frustrated by being treated ineptly over the phone? Multiply that out across the business world and imagine how much business is lost because of poor interpersonal skills.
Whatever you call them, core skills are needed at all levels of any organization to increase productivity, effectiveness, and profitability. And building these skills—at all levels—is always a good investment.