BusinessPeople In BusinessIt’s time to go soft on skills

It's time to go soft on skills

Going to school can be awful preparation for being in business. The problem is that a school curriculum is skewed around training pupils to solve problems and apply logic to challenges. Nobody objects to pupils at Harry Potter's Hogwarts being taught Potions and Spells because we assume there would be an associated systematic body of knowledge.

Living in a society that is technologically and scientifically advanced, much professional advancement is close to impossible without the mastery of one – or more – specialised branch of systematic technical knowledge. But the downside is that more technologically knowledgeable people are finding their career progress checked by difficulties with managing people.

There is a desperate need for talented managers by organisations going places. Technical people want to develop their careers and increase their income. Moving to management is the logical way of achieving this.

Running a team of talented specialists and helping them to collaborate and listen to one another is no more inherently ‘natural’ a skill than flying an aeroplane. We even use the terminology ‘soft’ skills implying they are not so serious.

There is no reason to assume technical expertise is more significant than ‘people’ expertise. If anything, the opposite is the case. Judging from the greater number of people adept at technical skills than those with a flair for managing people, we can conclude people management is actually the more rare skill.

One of the first things you learn about this ‘discipline’ is that there are no unshakeable laws of what works and what doesn’t. It is about dealing with people, who are different and unpredictable.

An organisation which strives to add these important competencies to the portfolio of skills of its people is likely to find the positive benefits on its bottom-line makes these competencies seem far from ‘soft’, but as hard as and precious as diamonds.

  • Neil Ritson is MD of UK operations at Burlington Resources, an oil and gas exploration company.

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