Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are we there yet?

When our children were young we did quite a few road trips. We travelled by car all around New Zealand and most of NSW and Victoria in Australia as well as covering significant amounts of Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia. Like most parents we learned to dread the question: "are we there yet?"
Today, in the space of only a few hours, I had two different organisations ask me a very similar question.
Both organisations have a vacancy in a supervisory position. Both organisations have people who are technically everything they desire. The issue relates to the suitability of these people for the next step up the ladder.
Whether or not we readily admit it, the truth is that every supervisory and management position is, first of all, a position demanding "people skills". The moment we move from being assessed on what we achieve from a technical position to what we achieve through the work of other people, the ability to interact positively with other people becomes essential.

Some years ago, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in their book "Management of Organizational Behavior" introduced a diagram similar to the one here. The point they made was that, at the operator level of an organisation, the key payoff skills - those things by which you will be assessed - are your technical competence. Once you move into any form of supervisory or management role, the high payoff skills become your people skills. At each level, all three sets of skills are important, but the skills underlying the way in which you are assessed changes significantly.
This was something both of the organisations with which I spoke today have yet to learn. They knew that these vacancies were coming up yet they did nothing to prepare those they are interested in promoting. The result is that they now face the dilemma of either appointing people who lack the necessary people skills or disillusioning (and possibly losing) their best technicians.
Like any other sets of skills, people skills can be learned. What do you do in your organisation to develop the people skills of those responsible for other people?
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