“It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating:people leave bosses, not companies. In a skills shortage climate such as theone we’re experiencing, this should have companies falling all over themselvesto try and make their managers better managers of people,” says Jules Newton, MDof Avocado Vision, which specialises in training people to become more powerfulcommunicators. She says businesses need to wake up to the fact that they’re nowoperating in the relationship economy, which means people skills are no longera soft ‘nice to have’ – they’re mission critical.
Why? Because, as Newton explains, a managerwho is able to connect with the people who report into them acts as the gluethat holds a team together and makes the group of employees a team in the firstplace. Feeling part of a team goes hand in hand with a sense of belonging, ofbeing valued and of contributing to meaningful work. All of which willinfluence an employee’s decision to stay or leave your organisation – somethingthat Newtoncalls the ‘stickiness factor.’
The problem is that many managers who haveoutstanding technical or strategic capacity, simply lack the people skillsnecessary to increase organisational stickiness. Newton relates the story of a particularmanager whose organisation was involved in training: “If generalisations arehelpful to illustrate a point, he was your typical accountant-type – greattechnical ability but he really battled to make any kind of connection with hisstaff.
He didn’t communicate with them, whichmeant they didn’t know what was going on half the time. This made them afraidthey’d do the wrong thing which generally contributed to an unhealthy andunhappy team. They experienced him as arrogant and unapproachable, but what wecame to realise in engaging with him was that he simply found it reallydifficult to talk to people.”
But, as she points out, the competenciesrequired to be a great manager of people can be learned. “In fact, it is oftenprecisely those to whom these skills do not come naturally who ultimately excelin mastering them, in many cases for the simple reason that they implementsmall yet deliberate steps to reach their goal. This was the case with ouraccountant,” she says. “His first step was to make an effort to personallygreet each staff member every morning, instead of walking straight to hisoffice and closing the door. Then we got him to change his office around sothat he had a work area with his desk, and a less formal conversational area.”
The small steps, she adds, have to becoupled with a number of other learnings:
- Learn how to listen. In other words,keep quiet even when you might not agree with what’s being said. And rememberthat listening also involves reading between the lines and hearing what isunspoken.
- Learn to ask. Accept that you don’t knowmore about your team members’ areas of responsibility than they do so you can’tsolve their problems by offering them your solution. Instead, learn to askquestions that help them to think more rationally about their challenges. Beinga coach is about getting people to think for themselves.
- Provide constant feedback. Feedbackbuilds people and lack of it places people in an information vacuum, whichleads to insecurity and doubt about their role, lack of understanding aboutwhat’s expected of them and resentment at not being valued.
- Understand individuals so you know ‘howthey like their dinner served’. There’sno one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing people so make aneffort to get to know what makes each of your team members tick and whatsituations they work best in. Some people need more structure, for example,while others thrive on less.
- The learning curve is lifelong. Onemanagement course does not a good people manager make. Whether it’s playing tostrengths, sussing personalities or understanding persuasive conversations, amature manager understands that the infinite variability of the people theymight one day have to manage, demands an arsenal of people skills that can onlybe acquired through focused and deliberate effort.
- Get over your ego. Whatever managers maybelieve about the superiority of their position, the fact remains that they arethere to serve their staff as much as their staff are there to serve them andthe organisation.
It stands to reason that in a relationshipeconomy, it is relationships that will provide businesses with theircompetitive edge. At the end of the day, management is about people and thesuccessful managers will be those who understand this and are able to makelasting human connections with staff. What’s more, whether you’re a natural ora novice, there is always room for improvement – the journey ofself-development should never be a finite one.
For more information contact Jules Newton on +2711 614 0206 or visit www.avovision.co.za