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Skills of the here and now... leadership and people management

April seems so long ago… my post at the beginning of April about our future workforce and skills of the future being here with a vengeance wasn’t the first time I’ve mentioned that the future of work is now. (Read the original post here). It is an ongoing thread in my conversations and has been that way for a long time.

Skills have always changed and adapted to the tasks and work required at the time.

They will continue to adapt as our work environment changes, not just after COVID-19, but with technology or process or leadership changes. As strategies shift and business focus changes, the technical skills required to succeed in your working life will change.

Technical capabilities will always be on the move, especially as technology improves and is deployed in more areas of our lives. What will also shift are soft skills (oh how I dislike that term!) and the priority placed on different behaviours and personal competencies.

New, flexible workforces, post COVID-19, require substantial uplift of capability within these “soft” skills to lead and manage teams through an ever-changing business environment. According to IBM research, behavioural skills dominated the top four core competencies global executives seek, with behavioural skills more critical than technical capabilities (see Figure 1).

A recent conversation I had locally, reflected the gap in understanding and credibility given to those competencies because they are traditionally difficult to measure, not well understood and not seen as differentiators of performance and profit. The term “fluffy” was used...

These competencies are far from fluffy. Josh Bersin defines it well:

“….soft skills are actually hard ‘they are difficult to build, critical and take extreme effort to obtain’.”

The baseline driver of performance is always personal competencies and behaviours (aka ‘soft’, ‘fluffy’ skills). Don’t get me wrong, technical capabilities are critical in specific areas and roles within a business, but personal competencies, in particular leadership behaviours, are the differentiators. Not just from the titled leaders, but across the board.

Leadership behaviours are not reliant on being a manager, and can be displayed by anyone within the organisation. They need to be cultivated to help build and change the culture for adaptability, performance and sustainability. (Sustainability in this context is not just about the environment, but the long-term performance of your business and it’s continual growth).

Culture is shaped by leadership which subsequently drives performance. Leadership behaviours are what will make or break a business culture and ultimately impact your bottom line and investment performance.

If you ask anyone what makes a good leader or a good team member, or to reflect on a great leader they know, chances are the last thing they will mention are technical skills or competencies. Most people will list off things like:

  • they’re people oriented,

  • humble,

  • decisive,

  • consistent,

  • objective,

  • collaborative,

  • creative,

  • innovative…

…you get my drift? These are not technical capabilities, or hard skills. They are what is commonly called soft skills. It is very rare that technical competencies are at the top of the list – especially when discussing leadership capability and the best leader a person has known. (Test it out – ask one of your peers or friends who the best leader is they’ve ever worked for and what made them stand out.. I’d love your feedback).

The World Economic Forum top 10 transferrable skills for 2020, in my experience, form the core competencies all leaders should aspire to and develop.

What I have found over the years, is a propensity for leaders to be promoted based on their technical capability, with a limited overview of these core competencies and transferrable behavioural skills. This leads to many new and emerging leaders in particular, being set-up for failure and floundering out of their depth.

Typically, measuring performance of and promoting leaders is often a subjective process, driven through relationships, bias and the perception of a personal “reflectability” of poor performance (ie if I measure them as a poor performer, that will reflect on my own leadership capability or lack thereof!)

Managing people is a skill set in and of itself that goes hand-in-glove with leadership (see #4 in the WEF list above). The personal attributes required to engage and motivate employees and have difficult conversations is not something many of us are born with – it requires understanding your strengths, working with them and learning how to actually manage your people. It requires the ability to have sometimes difficult conversations and address poor performance – something that many, many people struggle with.

Having difficult conversations requires courage and courage requires vulnerability. Setting expectations builds trust, builds engagement and ultimately builds a high performing culture. In the words of Brene Brown:

Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. (read Brene’s work here).

As a leader and manager, your job is to support, encourage and develop your team. If you are not having courageous conversations and setting clear expectations with your team members, you are not doing any of those things.

You are setting them up to fail.

My years of experience across the global talent spectrum has given me key insight into what makes a team tick:

  1. knowing they are working on the right work for the business and customer outcomes,

  2. making sure you have the right people in your team and then

  3. developing and encouraging the right behaviours. (you might see a similarity here from the Optimal Resourcing mission! A-ha! 😉)

Developing and encouraging the right behaviours is the job of every leader and every manager. Setting clear expectations of behaviour and performance from the outset is your priority. Managing and leading to those expectations is your job. Holding yourself and your team accountable to defined expectations requires you to be consistent and unbiased.

The BOOST feedback model and the Hot Stove Rule of Discipline can help keep you on track. They are both simple frameworks of consistency, objectivity, being specific and timely. Both can be downloaded from our website.

Understanding and assessing behavioural skills is not “fluffy” and should not be subjective. If you really want to make a difference to your business culture, leadership and ultimately the performance of your organisation, baseline your current team’s competencies using our DNA assessment and then develop them to build and grow your business.

A rich company culture can increase your performance by 1.2-1.7% and who doesn’t want that?

Author: Jude Mahony

15th June 2020

Our industry-leading “DNA assessment” will help you to identify your teams personal skills, and our benchmarking process will support you in identifying the skills needed for your future workforce. The TTI DNA® profile has been designed to accurately measure an individual’s level of development in 25 business-related competencies (or personal power skills). The profile is named because these 25 competencies are like the foundational building blocks, or DNA, of performance, having been refined from an analysis of a much larger pool of skills.

Build a true picture of your team’s competencies, and let us help you build a development plan for your leaders to truly make a difference to your business.


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