• Chris Bowler

Soft skills - Your keys to success right now


Now, more than ever, good management skills are mission critical to leading your team. In the marketing world, you produce talent through your people. They are your product. But how do you source and keep your raw material - your people - at a time when labor shortages abound?


It's no secret that the Covid pandemic caused severe disruption in the way we work. And marketers and agencies are trying to grapple with the new reality. But more than remote working and zoom calls, the last year and a half forced a fundamental reassessment of our own careers. Forced to work at home, away from the confines of the office environment, all of us felt some new freedom to work the way we want, unraveling the social bonds that bind us to our coworkers and managers. The day-to-day routine has broken down and created the possibility - which was always there - that you literally could do whatever you want, including jumping ship to your next big gig.


Think about it: many of the structures that employers within marketing departments and agencies rely on have just broken down. Gone were the things that kept us coming back: Office parties, freebie meals, happy hours out with coworkers, the occasional gifts and perks arriving in the office, in-person instruction, creative brainstorming sessions and just the regular social banter. All of these things that made your teams 'sticky' have evaporated. And for some companies with work-at-home or flex-work schedules, they aren't coming back anytime soon.


So you are a manager stuck with a team that is still mostly, or partially remote. How do you foster your talent and make something special? How do you prevent productivity losses, continued poor morale, or even worse, a mass exodus to the competitor that gets away with just offering higher compensation?


This is the new normal where using your 'soft skills' or 'people skills' is now imperative. If you are a team manager, you need to make the shift from an old-school hierarchy and corporate structure to a much more fluid style where empathy, coaching and career development take center stage.


There are three fundamental 'soft skill' shifts which a forward-acting manager must make.


Move from 'Telling' to 'Active Listening'

It's basic and you've heard it before, but developing your listening skills is the critical first step. Not only with your direct reports, but with your manager, as well as your clients/customers. Listening is certainly more than just hearing: it's determining the true meaning of the subject matter being discussed, as well as discerning the true intent from the individuals you are talking with. Active Listening is just that: the ability to process the direct and indirect meaning and context of the discussion. A key outcome of active listening is to acknowledge that the individual is being heard, in a way that reaffirms what was just said. Further, active listening involves drawing implications that complete the conversation. The solution isn't just to be heard, which is important, but also to translate the discussion into action that meets the goals of both individuals.


Go from Performance Reviews to Career Planning

Let's face it: employees are there for the short term. Gone are the days of multi-year employment. And in today's fast-moving job market, the most important insight to always remember is that the career trumps the job. That's why it's a mistake to conduct a performance review which only covers the accomplishments and shortcomings of the job description. Sure, your team mate will assume that they are getting a performance review. But what a delightful and meaningful surprise if you turn the mundane performance review into an opportunity to advance their career. A key outcome of a career discussion is to define career goals (not job goals). A good example might be to lay out a goal for the employee to start managing people. Moving from managing oneself to managing others is a game-changer for an employee looking to advance. I've nearly always felt excitement from the team member when these types of goals are outlined.


Focus on Team Building

Almost everyone is familiar with personality assessments, where the individual completes a survey and then finds out who they are based on the results. There are many personality assessments out there, with Myers-Briggs being one of the more popular. While these assessments can provide a wealth of knowledge about the individual, they are insufficient in our new collaborative environment. What is critically needed is the application of this data as it relates to others. How someone may interact with their fellow coworkers is the important dynamic here. What are their needs, their passions, their stress reactions? Get granular with specific individuals to map one to the other: manager to employee, employee to employee, even agency team to client team. It is guaranteed that this mapping exercise will reveal important insights about team dynamics and will identify areas of disfunction. A great tool to consider is iMapMyTeam. Built on proprietary personality assessment data, this platform compares the dynamics of the team to improve performance outcomes. (full disclosure: I am on the advisory board of the parent company).


There are many more soft skill development strategies, but start with the first three: Active Listening, Career Planning, and Team Building. You see, if you can give your team some real benefits that other companies will miss, you will be rewarded with happier, retained employees and, as a result, more satisfied customers for your business.


What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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