02 Mar

Are people skills still relevant?

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.” Ralph Nichols

We’ve all seen articles about technology. How fast advances are happening, how new innovations will help us in our daily lives. We hear the stories of amazing robotic achievements, advances in technology making life easier and even sometimes saving lives!

So with the focus on things like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Machine Learning (ML) amongst other new acronyms on the radar…are people skills still relevant?

The importance of people skills

Most experts agree…people skills are essential workplace skills – now and especially in the future. Because technology can not successfully and totally replace people.

Empathy, collaboration, communication, innovation, problem solving, leadership…people skills.

So now more than ever it’s important to develop our people skills. Especially in organisations where team performance is critical for success. The skills of a team to communicate effectively, make joint decisions and act quickly are still important to ensuring results. The ability of workers – no matter what their role – to listen, demonstrate empathy, and ask great questions is still fundamental in delivering great customer service, as well as effective team collaboration.

A powerful people skill we all need in teams!

A skill that is essential in teams, is the ability to navigate tough discussions for a positive outcome. Yet so many managers I talk to dread or dislike these situations. Many actively avoid having the discussions that are most needed.

Tough discussions, difficult conversations – they are hard. Because emotions and important topics are involved. The stakes are high, and the emotions are high for each person involved.

To fine tune our people skills, we need to start talking about threat states and psychological safety. I believe that these aspects will become increasingly important for teams, as the pace of technological advances, global challenges, and population growth continues to impact.

Difficult conversations will always be in the workplace. Change and complexity will only make them more important, and potentially more frequent.

Frontline managers in particular need to be equipped to understand the complexities of human interactions, and how they can impact their team’s culture and performance through their people skills. The ability to have productive conversations around difficult topics is an essential people skill.

The old way of managing – the authoritarian approach, some would call it – is not successful as it once might have been. And it won’t make tough discussions easier, that’s for sure!

People skills. Always relevant, and perhaps now, more so than ever.

What do you think?

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21 Nov

Finishing the year on a positive!



“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.”

Chris Grosser


Can you believe it’s almost the end of the year?!  At this time of year most of us are wondering where the months have gone, and feeling a bit tired as we wind toward year end.

So how do we maintain momentum, gain energy and ensure we finish the year celebrating our successes? And where we lead others, how can we help them be motivated and productive as the rest of the year advances?

Looking back…

Let’s give ourselves firstly some time to think about what has been. Remember January 1 this year? All those plans, resolutions and goals? All those good intentions and positive vibes?

Take yourself back there and review – what have you achieved that you set out to? Celebrate that! If you have achieved things that weren’t even on that January list – celebrate that too! Take a moment to consider what you are proud of this year. This is important. People are motivated by many things. One of them is progress – moving forward, achieving, taking a step.  The sense of making progress is important to people’s energy levels and ongoing productivity. So without stopping and talking stock of what we have achieved, how will we maximize our sense of achievement?

Humans are funny – we tend to focus on the negative – what we haven’t done, what we are not good at, who doesn’t like us.! Let’s flip this on its head and look at what we HAVE achieved (and while we are at it – what we are good at and who does like us!)

So what are you proud of this year? What achievements have you made, no matter how big or small? Write them down. Now go have a coffee, or a walk, do something to celebrate. A dance in the office is fine. Acknowledge it with something you enjoy. Because too often we don’t do this. And what’s the point of achieving if we ignore it and just move on to the next thing? Life is full of thinking about ‘the NEXT thing’. Busy, busy, busy. Slow down, be proud, celebrate!

Looking forward…

Now we’ve partied with our progress, let’s reflect on January 1 next year. Take yourself there. If you like to party, imagine the party. If you like to bring in the new year quietly, imagine the best possible place you could be. In both cases, who are you with? Family, friends, pets? Or maybe it’s a glass of wine and a good book. Imagine your perfect 31 Dec into Jan 1.

Now in this perfect zone, think about what you will look back on from the last  months of the year. What do you want to be celebrating? What progress will you toast? What achievements will you be proud of? Imagine your quiet or noisy celebration – which ever you prefer. Do it with a smile on your face. Paint a vivid and visual memory of all you’ve achieved.

Now get out that piece of paper again. Answer these questions:

  • What will you achieve before year end?
  • What habit do you need to break to ensure you achieve success?
  • What will give you energy, when commitment falters?

How did you go? Could you answer these questions? I’d suggest reviewing them weekly or daily. If you are determined to have that proud memory on Jan 1, you will commit.

What about your team?

Now, let’s think about your team. Are they slowing down toward the end of the year? Could

they do with an energy boost or a momentum push?

Perhaps you cold do the above exercises – looking back to celebrate and looking forward to achieve – with them.

Here are some other suggestions that I have for helping the team focus.

  • Have a weekly celebration of achievements as a team – whether talking about them in a regular team meeting, or sending an email, making a video or sharing over coffee.
  • Ensure that the team have time together to build team morale and energy. Weekly or fortnightly meetings are great for this.
  • Maybe the team is a social one and like coffee or lunch together? You know your team the best – how can you ensure this informal bonding occurs?
  • Find or have the team find a shared project that they can work on outside of their daily tasks. Something that is not too time consuming, yet is exciting for them. Not any random thing – something that relates to the work they do. Maybe your team is passionate about improving the physical workspace – let them plan and change it. Maybe they want to raise money for a good cause, solve an operational matter that’s been bugging them for a while, start a lunchtime walking group? Whatever it is, allow some freedom and creativity to refresh their minds.
  • Bring in an interesting speaker for a lunchtime or breakfast discussion. It could be a patient, a local business person, a trainer, someone from another team. Keep it short and informal. Ask the team afterwards what they learnt and how they can apply that to their own work. T
  • Have a half day meeting determining the priorities for the team to achieve before the end of the year. Plan out together what’s important, what needs to happen and key milestones. Give everyone responsibility for a part of the plan, and review it regularly (again, celebrate efforts and even small achievements).
  • Hold a competition and have some fun with it. Who excelled at customer service this week? Who learnt a new skill, tackled a challenge or achieved a milestone? Give small prizes if you can, definitely acknowledgement.

There are a few ideas for you to help support your team’s energy for the lead up to the year end. What will you do?

Here’s to a positive and productive year end!

31 Oct

A quick and cheap team assessment!

“Gettin’ good players is easy.  Gettin’ ’em to play together is the hard part. “ ~Casey Stengel

For those of us who lead or participate in any type of team, we all have moments of wondering if the team could somehow operate better. Sometimes we know how to improve it and sometimes we are not really sure what the issues are. To really assess a team’s performance, we should use a diagnostic tool. There are many of these on the market and in the ideal world you would use a diagnostic tool AND a facilitator to work through your team strengths and areas for development.

But what if you don’t have the time, money or inclination to engage a diagnostic tool and a facilitator? You could try running a ‘quick and cheap’ assessment yourself. While this may not give the rigor a more formal process can bring, it is a starting point and at the very least it will get the team talking.

Step 1: Draw and label

Divide a flip chart sheet into 4 segments (by drawing a line across the middle horizontally and an intersecting line down the middle vertically)

The 4 labels for each segment are:

  • Well
  • Not so well
  • Should
  • Shouldn’t

Step 2: Gather team input

Ask the team to write down their thoughts on post-it / sticky notes with one comment per post-it

  • what are we doing well as a team?
  • what are we doing not so well as a team?
  • what should we be doing?
  • what shouldn’t we be doing?

It’s up to you if you ask for input regarding the team as a bigger picture, or if you want to delve into the detail of team goals, operating principles or specific projects.  Your terminology can also be adapted to suit e.g. instead of ‘doing’ you might say ‘achieving’ or ‘focussing on’.

Ask the team to put their comments onto the flip chart in the relevant segment.

Step 3: Discuss

Lead the team in a discussion about the comments, starting with what’s been done well and then what’s not being done so well. Then move on to the next two areas.  Sometimes the ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ reflect the first two and sometimes new ideas will arise – double-up is fine and extra points are fine – the whole purpose is to get the team talking about team dynamics and performance.

Summarise for the group what the main findings are; ask for expansion if necessary; ask for examples if required.

Step 4: Action plan

On a separate flip chart, ask the team to agree on their top 4 – 5 actions to improve team function. This might include starting things we should be doing, stopping things we shouldn’t be doing, continuing things we do well or improving things we don’t do so well.

Confirm agreement and decide when the team will next check-in about the actions agreed.

There you have it – a ‘quick and cheap’ team assessment! While it might not be perfect, it is simple and easy to conduct and often generates some great insights.

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