We all know that there’s more to succeeding in life than having book smarts. People skills, whether it’s understanding ourselves or working well with others, are equally important. But there’s a gap between this common understanding and the way we educate people for the world of work. So where does that gap come from, and what can we do to tackle it?
An Education Gap
As I’ve previously discussed, there’s a big gap between what businesses need from education and what the system provides. People skills are among the ones that our schools give little time to, but which we most value in employees. Communication, empathy, emotional intelligence, even persuasion and influencing – these don’t feature as subjects in the curriculum. Without a commitment from governing bodies and huge amounts of support for teachers, there isn’t time for them in the school day.
If you want to see this change then let your elected representatives know. Write to your congressman, senator and local school board. Consider getting involved with the board yourself. Democracy only works if we all participate.
An Organizational Gap
Organizations fall into the same trap of not prioritizing the skills they actually want. If you’re serious about finding employees with excellent people skills, then you can’t rely on CVs as a recruitment tool. These skills don’t appear on CVs because they aren’t reflected in the qualifications people hold or the jobs they have done.
In-house training schemes fall into the same trap. How many organizations have you ever worked with that explicitly included people skills in their staff training? And how many of those few made them a priority?
Make people skills a foundation stone of your staffing. This doesn’t just mean employing good communicators or those who understand the people around them. It means employing people who are good at reflecting on their own work, seeking to improve it and to learn from others.
Taking a more innovative approach to hiring can really help with this, and though it’s hard work the potential payoffs are huge. But training is also central. You can, and should, include training in communication, influencing, listening, emotional intelligence and self-reflection in your staff development. Until the schools can provide that training you need to do it yourself.
A Personal Gap
The gap in other people’s education is a gap in your own as well, and you can’t expect them to change if you don’t. However good your people skills are they can always get better, so take the time to develop them on a regular basis.
Take an inventory of your own people skills. Use your latest workplace assessments, and if possible seek more feedback from the people around you. Look at where your strengths are in people skills and where there are gaps. Come up with a plan for your own training to fill those gaps. And don’t just do this once – make sure to assess yourself at least once a year and look for where next to improve. The very assessment itself will help develop your self-reflection.
Re-skilling at Every Level
Dealing with such a huge training gap is a difficult task. But if you’re willing to address it on every level then you can help to make a real difference for yourself, for your employees, and for the rest of society.
About the Author: Mark Lukens is a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity.
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