In last month’s article, we introduced the Soft Skills Gap that can sometimes exist with newer financial planners and shared some ideas on how to identify and address this gap from Bruce Tulgan’s new book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics To Today’s Young Talent. This month, you will hear from the man himself, Bruce Tulgan Founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., in our very first guest post on the specifics of how to talk to your team members about their soft skills gap.
Most managers don’t spend much time talking with their employees about their soft skills development, unless they are dealing with a specific instance of failure. Right? When do managers most often talk with their direct-reports about matters of self-management or critical thinking or people skills? When an employee is late or dressed inappropriately or loses something or fails to follow through or makes a ‘stupid’ mistake’ or curses at the wrong time or has a conflict with a customer or a coworker… or something else that is a petty failure.
That’s why managers often say things like, “Do I really have to talk to my employees about these things? They are adults. They should already know how to manage themselves and solve problems and play well with others.” Sorry. You really have no choice. If you are in charge of anybody, then it is part of your job.
At the very least, you must build it in to your regular management routine: Talk about the high priority soft skills in team meetings and talk about them in your ongoing one-on-one dialogue with every single person you manage. Focus on the high priority behaviors in your organization, your team, in each role, or those that are particular focal points for particular individuals. Trumpet the broad performance standards regularly. Just like every other aspect of performance, build it in to your team communications and talk about it on a regular basis in your one-on-one dialogues: Require it. Measure it. Reward people when they do it. Hold people to account when they don’t.
Managers often ask me, “At what point can I back off on giving them so much attention?” My answer: “Whenever you want to start losing that employee’s best efforts.”
Surely some employees need more attention than others. But they all need your attention. Most young people want managers who know who they are, know what they are doing, and are in a position to help. If you have employees who are struggling with his/her own “soft skills gap,” here’s what you do:
- Make them aware: Name it and describe what the skill means to the organization.
- Make them care: Explore what the skill means to them.
- Sell it: Explain the “self-building” value of the skill.
- Break it down: Spell out exactly what they need to do, step-by-step.
- Make it easy: Use ready-made lessons and exercises.
- Get them involved: Give them “credit” for self-directed learning.
- Make it practical: Spotlight opportunities to practice on-the-job.
- Follow up with coaching style feedback to reinforce the lessons whenever possible.
Remember that most new young employees are coming to you straight from school. Remind them early and often that this is a different kind of relationship. You want to build them up and make them better. But this is a job. They are not paying you for the privilege. Rather you are paying them!
Yes, they may have been raised by those helicopter parents on steroids. That means you need to establish early and often the ground rules for your management relationship and how you are going to maintain a regular structured dialogue around expectations and performance.
Yes, today’s young workforce is used to the customization of everything. That means you need to remind them early and often that individual accommodation is not the norm in the workplace. Yes, you will try to customize what you can to meet their needs. But more often they will need to accommodate you, as the manager. And the good news is that you will be paying them for the privilege!
Do not discount the fact that today’s young people have become so accustomed to electronic communication that they may be losing the ability to communicate well in-person. Teach them early and often the techniques of in-person and telephone communication – using their voices, their spoken words, their eyes, their gestures, and tones.
Teach them what counts as matters of professionalism ---attitude, self-presentation, schedule, and interpersonal communication--- and be prepared to explain that, in the workplace, these are not just personal matters of individual style or preference. At work, it’s all about the employer’s business.
Tap into their customer thinking. They look at their relationship with any established institution, no matter how small or how large, and they think, “What do you have for me? And what currency do I need to use to get what I want/need from you?” Take that mindset and turn it inside out: “We are the customer in this relationship! We are paying you!!”
Help orient new young employees by helping them figure out “their proper place” in the context --- how to adapt in order to “fit in” with others who clearly have longstanding relationships and a well-established course of dealing.
To learn more about Bruce make sure you visit www.rainmakerthinking.com.