A group of red pawns with a black one standing separately, symbolising managers.

More than half of today’s managers are failing their workforce

The relationship between a manager and their reports is an integral aspect of working life, and often one of the trickiest to navigate but if done right, it’s the magic elixir that can motivate, develop, increase productivity, innovate, engage employees, build loyalty, nurture a learning culture and much more!

With remote working, Covid-19 has added another dimension to building this type of relationship. Yet how much time and cognitive capacity do people managers have to devote to people management? How much value is placed within organisations on this aspect of manager’s jobs and the respective soft skills?

A never-ending cycle

The entire working landscape is expected to perform; exceed targets, innovate and grow their business. But how can this happen when the entire promotional structure, in the majority of organisations, is flawed?

“Well, that’s pretty dramatic…”, I hear you cry. It certainly might seem like it, but our entire ecosystem within workplaces is almost designed to produce ineffective managers.

More often than not, employees are promoted into senior or managerial roles because of their technical or job specification proficiency. Basically, if you’re consistently exceeding expectations in the fundamentals of your role, the next step is promotion – right?

This template works in practice – as workplaces are rewarding staff who are excelling with seniority and the benefits that come alongside it. But with more seniority comes more responsibility – perhaps eventually leading to having a team of direct reports. But technical ability doesn’t automatically equal emotional intelligence, empathy, listening, coaching, tactfulness etcetera – all of which are vital people skills that create an effective manager.

Most organisations recognise this at a surface level. There is often training when someone first becomes a people manager. But that’s where it tends to stop unless you get a promotion and are looking after a larger team or multiple teams – and again this is generally a one-off event.

Where are we now?

Recent research into what makes an effective manager and what they need to succeed cites that 44% of managers would like more people management or coaching guidance, and over half (52%) express a desire to develop better interpersonal skills, to help them communicate with their teams more effectively.

Skills, or the lack of them, is becoming even more apparent – in PwC’s 2019 Annual Global CEO Survey 34% noted that they were extremely concerned about the availability of key skills threatening their organisation’s growth prospects. With their 2020 update embracing even more of a focus on how ‘the supply of people possessing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills and the uniquely human skills (e.g., creativity, empathy, collaboration) increasingly prized in today’s job market cannot keep up with demand’. The more digital disruption enhances workplace trauma, the more valuable soft skills will become.

‘Essential’ Skills

We’re all familiar with the skills gap and what this means in terms of digital or technical skills but it’s safe to say that for most, those skills often deemed ‘soft’ are less of a focus. Perhaps because they have less bearing on an employee’s technical competency in their role. But these are the fundamental backbone to any great leader. So, rather than soft skills, Saffron refers to them as essential or critical skills and places far more value on their adoption.

Research undertaken by McKinsey discovered that the disparity in salary range between job roles focused primarily on soft and hard skills is stark, indicating that; “the mean return for hard skills is over 2x higher than for soft skills: $79,183 compared to $39,661, respectively”. Which, inherently, perpetuates the cycle; “if such skills are not rewarded in proportion to their purported value, then managers, who are already time poor, will not be incentivised to focus on them, choosing instead to invest additional time acquiring hard skills”.

People organically develop soft skills as they progress through life – but not necessarily to the level needed inside the workplace or in order to manage a team of people. Employers need to play an active role in allowing these skills to be built, “management has to make the time for learning and training beyond the purely technical. Employees need to be rapidly and continuously developing to keep up with the pace of change”.

As in, of course, provide training to improve technical competency but foster a workplace that actively encourages essential skills training for managers by making it an integral part of their workday, because after all, “employee engagement is related to the psychological experiences of people who shape their work process and behaviour”. Managers who master those essential skills, are better placed to support their reports, create an environment where employees feel safe to speak up, take calculated risks and grow and develop beyond their role. A focus on psychological safety can allow employees to not only perform and develop but ultimately form a level of organisational commitment – leading to higher employee retention and lower turnover.

Deliberate. Practice.

Managers with increased essential skills engender a more efficient, cohesive and motivated workforce. But it probably won’t surprise you to hear that these are the hardest skills to acquire. Embedding them organically can take over 10,000 hours – or ten years! So how can we integrate this into employees already packed working day, simultaneously making it of high priority?

The key is deliberate practice, by breaking down those soft skills into specific components we can accelerate acquisition exponentially. Utilising deliberate practice – breaking things down, building and practicing consistently – employees are able to master skills faster and more effectively. For example, with Saffron’s skillsbot learners can have a constant guide, mentoring them to build on these skills and practice them; nudging cajoling and supporting them in their day to day.

Breaking the cycle

The rate of digital disruption will only accelerate due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – and with over 6 million roles at risk before we reach 2030 – those who have acquired soft skills, that AI can’t do (yet!), will be key. With employers providing soft skills training reporting positive impacts on their workforce, including higher productivity and improved results – the shift must continue to be fostered in all workplaces.

For organisations who want success and growth long into the future, managers who can get the most from their teams are more valuable than ever. Placing more value on those skills that will make them a true leader – and giving them the tools to acquire them is critical! After all, adaptability is key. A one-dimensional skill set isn’t quite enough anymore.

Want to chat with us about how to accelerate your workforce’s soft skills acquisition? Get in touch with one of our learning consultants and we’ll talk it out.