The Expert’s Corner
By: Todd Burrier
What separates a thriving company from a struggling one? Is it the quality of their product or service? Branding? Market conditions? Customer programs? Strategy? Geography? Niche? Competition? Supply chain? Pricing? These, and many other things, certainly play a role but they are not the primary factor.
The single most important factor in the success of all organizations is people. It always has been and it’s not likely to change any time soon. I’ve taught leadership in organizations of all sizes for over 20 years. Two things are abundantly clear: there is a lack of basic productivity and interpersonal skills in the workforce and the companies that invest in their people to develop these skills consistently do well.
It’s easy for decision makers to look past this. So much focus is on numbers. Numbers are important of course, if there are not profits, there will be no enterprise eventually. What is missed, or too lightly regarded, is that numbers come from the people. Not a single person. The sum of all the people. From the person answering the phone to the interactions that result in business transacting to servicing and retention.
Daily human interactions greatly influence the working environment in a company. They set the tone for the interface with the public and they affect customer relationships, the backbone of organizational longevity. These skills, referred to as soft skills, are the hardest to learn and the most important. Training an employee to be technically proficient in the work is not an issue for most companies, but having people who are adept at navigating the myriad of situations with various personality types, in real-time, both internally and externally, and in the most effective way, is often a missing ingredient.
Through my progression from grade school to an MBA, at no point was I required to undertake extensive training in people skills. As I work with leadership teams, I see that I’m not alone. The most basic teaching on listening skills, questions and conflict resolution are one “aha moment” after another for these decision makers. They are quickly able to see how they could be more effective with their people.
This is further exacerbated in today’s business climate as this generation of employees, who are devoid of basic soft skills training to start with, have navigated much of their formative years through technology. Their direct in-person and real-time skills are lagging dramatically. Yet they step into work situations where they have to interact with people, in important situations, without the benefit of taking the time to formulate the best answer via text. This is a recipe for miscommunication, conflict, and lost opportunity, which translates negatively to the bottom line.
Investing in these skills doesn’t just help employees be more effective in their work, it makes them more confident, positive, and proactive in general. This has a positive impact on the entire work environment which naturally spills over into the external interactions where the public interfaces with the business. In addition, employees are more effective in life to the point where it is a community reflection on the company. It is a win-win-win.