Soft Skills for Middle Management

It isn’t a new observation when we see young managers grapple with soft skills (communication, collaboration, feedback sharing, analytical, reporting, time management, etc.) as they advance into new and larger roles. It is eventually these skills that classify them as good or bad managers, depending on how they are able to deal with varying scenarios at work and how they help the organization to succeed or fail at final outcomes.

Needless to say, soft skills play a large role in the defining the success of young Managers and the way forward in their career paths.

While many are naturally aware of this need, few are proactive and invest in themselves so as to not lose out on opportunities within their current organization. However, a large percentage of mid-management employees stay with the belief that it is the duty of the organization to invest in them and help them cope up with softer development areas as they are going to utilize these for organizational roles and tasks. With such contrast in expectations, both – employees and organizations suffer. The employee gets frustrated with his lack of progress and advancement in the company, and generally hunts for other opportunites and organizations keep more expectations from promoted employees therefore wanting more and better output than before however suffer losses owing to attrition.

So now, why should we focus on Soft Skills and what merits does it bear?

Talent Retention

People are one of the biggest investment areas for any business and contribute substantially to business costs. As a matter of fact, employee engagement, retention and performance enhancement are the biggest contributors to business profitability. And despite this knowledge, organizations continue to experience low talent engagement and high turnover impacting their talent stability and hitting the bottom line hard.

Visible Signs of ‘Below the Line’ Employee Performance and Behaviour

·       Subdued Productivity: Employees might work hard & longer but produce less as they don’t feel worthy

·       Constant Conflict: People spend time and energy in unproductive discussions, planning or display evasiveness to avoid conflicts rather than spending time in effective communication and collaboration

·       Losing Potential Business Opportunities: When people are overworked and not aligned to the business’ bigger picture, they fail in becoming effective brand connoisseurs to prospects and customers as they aren’t able to dialogue with them effectively

A small example we would like to cite here is Arnab, an Assistant Manager, very positive and enthusiastic by nature, thinks of a new way (change in process) of doing certain tasks, which needs some additional inputs to be captured by the team. At the same time, there will be no cushioning on target numbers, which means the team will have to put in extra hours, compromise breaks or increase their pace – all of which the team members don’t like but accept grudgingly. Arnab, with good intentions, thought of doing this additional bit keeping in mind ongoing future requirements and knows that this information will definitely be useful in the coming future. After a few days of persuading and eventually pushing team members, some senior team members skip him and complain to his boss. Now Arnab’s boss questions him on the recent change he has introduced – questions like Why? With whose permission? transpire and Arnab is then reprimanded and told that the organization is getting the same activity done through outsource resources and if at all anything Arnab had only wasted time and effort in doing what he did.

How many of you feel this was right? Arnab is naturally feeling disappointed that his initiative was rebuked, forget about being appreciated. After all he was thinking about his company’s benefit. Now, Arnab feels undervalued and reactively starts seeking other opportunities.

Who was at fault here? Do you think Arnab should have naturally apprised of certain new activities his organization was doing so that it would benefit his team? Or do you feel Arnab should have consulted his boss before making deviations? Either ways, it is soft skills here that are lacking.

Organizations do recognize extra efforts and innovative ventures by way of rewards and recognition however sometimes the initiative might just not be big enough. At middle management levels, it is necessary to make people feel appreciated and many a times, a simple ‘Thank You’, ‘Great Job’ or a single line over email copied to essential stakeholders goes a long way in creating positivity amongst employees and serves as a deterrent to seeking change.

Many organizations fail to acknolwedge and address the need for elementary soft skills challenges that make middle managers like Arnab feel unappreciated, demovitated and move on.

Growing organizations need to take heed that middle management too needs apportionate training investment as young achievers and potential employees of this generation are quickly becoming the pulse of organizations they are engaged with and are naturally ambitious and want to grow themselves as well as their organizations, in their own way.

In our experience, middle managers appreciate interpersonal and behavioural skills training and are quick to deploy the same within their teams and in extra-team relationship management.

Learning and Organizational Professionals in companies typically face scenarios where executives convey they would want their managers/bosses to be better at engaging employees, coaching, delegating and other areas. However, when such L&D professionals divest company funds to train their senior management alone rather than also apportioning for adequate learning interventions for middle management executives, then they fail at managing the gap between senior management and middle management. We must concede that it is very tough to convince someone devoid of soft skills that those skills are important to help others develop.

 

Some of the most popular leaders are known to have new approaches to soft skills development in their companies and what such leaders have in common is that they themselves practice soft skill leadership diligently. They are vigilant to note champions at the workplace who have similarities with their own behaviour and then together they team up to showcase how soft skills enhancement can increase employee engagement and affect business outcomes positively.

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