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Skills So Soft

Skills So Soft

In this age of rock-bottom unemployment, almost every company sounds the same horn: it's not the products, services or even the patent portfolio that sets one company apart from the competition. It's the people - executives and hourly employees alike - who make the difference.

With all that significance bestowed on people, one would think managing talent would have evolved accordingly. Yet when it comes to preparing top employees for executive positions, companies talk the line but often don't walk it. Given that it's so hard not only to find but to keep people, companies can no longer promote employees to managerial roles and let them sink or swim. In particular, companies need to equip recent arrivals to the executive ranks with the softer skills - interpersonal communications, public speaking, consensus-building, perceptiveness and the like - necessary to succeed in their new roles.

For example, a company can't kick its top salesperson up to management and expect her performance to automatically match or surpass her previous achievements. After all, the aggressiveness and competitiveness required to be a star in sales (characteristics reinforced in the form of handsome commissions) don't lend themselves to the subtle art of managing and motivating underlings. Sure, some employees just aren't cut out to be executives. But too many promotions fail because companies don't recognise that new executives need training specific to their new roles. As with the overachieving sales manager who suddenly finds herself on mahogany row, the traits that lead to a promotion can sometimes be liabilities in the new role.

When executives talk about their CIOs, a lack of soft skills is a frequent refrain. All too often, the blame for this shortcoming falls squarely (and unfairly) on the CIOs' shoulders. Business executives have to recognise how CIOs arrived at their positions. For most, the path to becoming CIO involved years of demonstrating technical prowess in the IT trenches. Is it really that surprising that many CIOs don't play well with other executives when they first cross the threshold of the boardroom?

If your CIO doesn't merit high marks in the communicating department, don't be too quick to pull the plug on his tenure. Instead of bemoaning where CIOs fall short, CEOs and other executives need to understand what makes their technical brethren tick. Understanding where the strengths of CIOs and other executives lie and how to build on them involves more than putting their resumes under a microscope. Executives need to examine the personality traits of newly promoted employees and recognise how those traits manifest themselves in job performance. Is this new executive a do-it-yourself type who gets buried under his workload? If so, it's time for some training in delegation skills. Does this new executive hoard data and make solo decisions on the fly? Lessons in sharing information and collective decision making are in order. Discovering such behavioural tendencies is the first step to providing newly promoted executives with the appropriate training.

If people are indeed a strategic asset at your company, isn't it time to start managing them like one?

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