Soft management skills, also commonly called people management skills or interpersonal skills are crucial for management and business success. For years, the performance of employees and managers was judged on 'hard' skills – your IQ, your expertise, your technical skills. For example, if you were a programmer, the standard was how well you could program. Nothing else. Soft skills didn’t receive much attention.
However, an increasing amount of companies are realizing the importance of soft skills. Managers and employees are no longer judged just on their hard skills. For example, in a study cited in Quality Progress , of more than 2100 hiring managers, a staggering 77% believed soft skills are as important as hard skills when evaluating a candidate.
I can even reference a study conducted in the 1990’s. Of the 968 firms in the study, those managers who effectively managed their people saw a decrease in turnover by more than 7%, increased profits per employee by $3,814, and $27,044 more sales per employee, compared to companies whose managers demonstrated poorer people management skills. There are countless other examples.
The bottom line- soft management skills are essential!
As a manager, your soft skills are increasingly more important as responsibilities extend to managing groups of people. You’re required to interact, guide, and help people daily. You’re also part of an ever-changing business landscape that dictates the need to adapt. To excel you need to work on developing those soft management skills. Here are 7 top soft management skills to develop.
Communication – both verbal and written – is arguably the most import soft management skill to develop. Imagine the world with no communication. Nothing would get done, and that which did get done, would take time – a serious amount of time. By communicating effectively you manage expectations and ensure everyone is on the same page. Effective communication requires that-
1. You present your ideas clearly to top management to get buy-in.
2. You communicate clearly with team members so they understand requirements of a job. For example, by giving a team member a task to do and not indicating what you require only sets that employee up for failure. You, in turn, become irritable because the completed task is not up to your standard.
3. You communicate employee concerns and problems to top management. After all, you’re the link and in many ways a voice for employees.
Tip-to improve your communication practice your writing. Since I’ve started writing – thousands of words weekly – I’ve found that I’m more articulate and express myself with greater clarity.
You are responsible for managing a team of people. But, your duties extend beyond just managing. To get the most out of employees you’re required to lead, to earn respect, and motivate your team to achieve peak performance. You’re dealing with individuals who are different. Different in terms of personality. Different in terms of cultural background. Harvard Business Review identifies 'Code Switching Between Cultures' – 'the ability to change behavior in specific situations to accommodate varying cultural norms' – as one of the three skills every 21st manager needs.
Tip-Analyze before acting. While action is important, it’s only as good as the information you base it on.
Teamwork extends beyond being able to create a sense of community within your team. You’re required to function with cross functional teams. How well do you work with other cross-functional teams? Are you a good collaborator? Can you get others in your team to collaborate? No business unit operates in isolation.
Tip- You need to be proactive about interacting with these cross-functional teams. Make a concerted effort to build relationships with them. If you’re the manager of a sales team, set up brainstorming sessions with the product development team.
Ultimately, you have a common goal- business success, which invariably involves profits.
I think it’s fair to say that managers spend the majority of the time solving problems . Heck, if there weren’t problems would you even have a job? Whether it’s a customer complaint, absenteeism, or issues about not reaching sales targets, you have to have an ability to solve problems. Problem-solving also requires a forward thinking mind, a mind in tune with identifying potential problems before they surface. Linked to this is the skill of critical thinking, to evaluate problems and be able to find solutions.
Tip- Read 7 Ways to Improve Your Creative Problem Solving Skills
The study mentioned earlier highlighted that companies who have managers with better people management skills saw a decrease in turnover by over 7%. Not to mention the other benefits of increased sales per employee and for the company.
Managing then is all about people. How do you communicate? Are you empathetic? Can you get the most out of your team? Are you respected?
The answers to these questions tie in with how you treat people. If someone has a family emergency – but you insist that the person works, – that person will start to develop resentment towards you and the business. You need to show you care about that employee and not just the profits. People management skills also include empowering people.
Tip- Empower people so they’re equipped with the skills to do the job. Also consider motivating employees, beyond just monetary rewards. Money can be a weak motivator, only motivating to the point that employees receive the money. One suggestion is to celebrate successes. Show that the company is progressing and make them feel like an active part in that. This makes employees feel valuable. It makes them feel part of something bigger.
Dealing with conflict as a manager is a given. Conflict can be about disagreements over business objectives or personality clashes. Every team you manage will have people with different personalities, different backgrounds, and different strengths and weaknesses. When conflict arises, you need to intervene and resolve the conflict. However, a better approach may be to coach and teach people how to resolve the conflicts on their own. This will save you time.
Tip- While conflicts are inevitable in any team you can also anticipate and prepare for them in advance. A tool like Shadowmatch can prove valuable. Shadowmatch creates personality profiles based on a series of questions. It then makes comparisons between employees to see how they would potentially work together. It will pinpoint possible clashes and provide solutions for such clashes. Knowing this information in advance will equip you with the knowledge to diffuse any conflict.
The business landscape has changed and continues to change at a rapid rate. Technology is advancing, every day! Launching a company is quicker than before, with many innovative start-ups following the 'lean innovation' approach, launching with a minimum viable product – a product with just enough features to gather insights and learnings.
Just think about the billion dollar companies that didn’t exist twenty years ago . The likes of Uber, Airbnb, Tinder, Snapchat, Twitter, Whatsapp, Google etc. And then think of companies who were once successful, but no longer exist. Business Pundit highlighted that only '71 companies remain today from the original 1955 Fortune 500 list.' You only have to look at Kodak who lost $1.2 Billion and laid off 20 000 employees in 1999.
The bottom line- companies who fail to adapt will struggle. In fact, in a Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick , she mentioned that Fast Company identified adaptability as the single most important skill to develop to thrive in the twenty-first century. While some people adapt better than others, you can learn, develop and refine this management skill over time.
Tip- While it can be difficult, start by first embracing change. In the words of the Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus , 'Change is the only constant in life.'
Soft management skills are more important than ever, especially in an ever changing business landscape. It’s important then to be cognizant that you not only require the hard skills or the expertise, but also the soft skills. Ultimately it’s those skills that are truly going to set you apart as a manager and a business.
Are there any soft management skills you’d like to add? What soft management skills?