My friend Keith Parsons and I are fond of saying, “It’s All About The People.” Because it is.  People and relationships are what’s really important in life, but everyone (including me) loses sight of that as we get caught up in the hustle of daily life. Whether at home or at work, we run our daily routines (aka autopilot) most of the time, rarely stopping (mentally) to consider how we affect (and are affected by) ourselves and those around us.

It’s rare that anyone takes the time to learn about people, strongly prioritizing technical knowledge over soft skills. Yet, how many times have you heard an interviewer say, “We are looking for a good fit for our team. If you are missing some technical skills, we can teach you that part.” I dare say, nearly every time. Who doesn’t want to work with people that you can learn from, be encouraged by, get along with, and even consider friends/family? It’s my opinion that people skills are far more important than technical skills. Consider that you rarely accept technical guidance from someone you don’t like. How can an interviewer know, with a high degree of certainty, that a potential employee will be a good fit for the team or for the role for which they are being considered?

Sometimes “team” can mean only one other person, like when you have a Systems Engineer paired with a Sales Professional. It’s a two-person team, and for the most part, companies hire people for those two positions based on technical (or sales) skill or past experience, expecting the two people to work out any personality differences they may have…because they simply must if they want to keep their job. Ever been paired with someone at work that rubs you the wrong way and/or makes you feel uncomfortable? How would you feel if your manager said, “you need to figure it out… or else.” Not a good situation. Let’s add some stress into the situation, like quarterly sales quotas and see how that impacts an already-bad situation. What if you could prevent that situation from ever happening in the first place? What if you could repair what is currently a significant personality conflict? Read on.

How much training does the average person or professional receive on personality types, conflict resolution, social psychology, and other components of being “a good fit” for a team? Minimal at best, but usually none. In high school? No. In University? Rarely, if ever. How then can we expect employees to just “get along”, when many of them may have no real idea how to do that? How can a company expect superior sales results, excellent technical support ratings, and amazing corporate culture? Perhaps companies think that people magically, and perhaps from birth, have a deep understanding of other people… Have they looked at how people treat one another in their company? Are your managers, or perhaps your HR department, constantly dealing with personality conflict issues? Personal conflict and divisiveness in our culture is at an all-time high for a number of reasons. Closely-held convictions may divide co-workers, cause teammates to rub each other the wrong way, or worse…cause employees to quit their job. The cost is high, but for some reason “people issues” are considered just part of doing business…because hey, you can’t fix people, right? Wrong.  A quick story…

When I was at Aerohive, I was one of the Exec Team (eStaff). One day, David Flynn (CEO) comes into a eStaff meeting and announced that, provided we were all OK with it, he was going to pay for counseling – for all of us collectively – because we couldn’t get along with each other. What? Counseling? Really? Were we that bad? We all agreed… some out of curiosity, some for other reasons. It turned out to be AMAZING. Susan Olesek, founder of the Enneagram Prison Project, who is one of my personal heros, was our trainer/facilitator. Two words: LIFE CHANGING. Susan’s class was only the beginning for me. Since then, I have studied under many other of the Enneagram’s greatest teachers, such as Russ Hudson and have even spent time with Susan going into prisons to teach. To this day, Susan remains the only person I know who can make me cry on-demand. J  How does she do that?? I’m forever grateful to David Flynn, who cared enough about his eStaff and his company to push us into learning some valuable people “soft” skills.

How can learning soft skills benefit a company you ask?

Employee Retention

Ever heard that phrase, “My manager is the company, to me.” The number one reason why people leave companies is due to a personality conflict with their boss. Don’t believe me? Google it. There’s 17 gozillion studies that say so….WAY too many to list in this blog. Now consider the cost of retraining a Systems Engineer. Then consider the additional cost of that Systems Engineer going to your main competition. Where else would they go?

Do you invest in technical training of your employees? Routing, switching, Wi-Fi, security, systems administration, etc.?  Of course you do. If you didn’t, your employees would eventually leave. Are soft skills less important? No. In fact, they are more important because your employees have numerous relationships that have to be created and maintained:

  • Manager(s) and co-workers
  • VARs, VADs, and other business partners
  • Customers

Why would you just assume that people understand people? Generally, they don’t.

Can you quantify how much money your company would lose if they lost a major account? A major business partner? A key employee? Have you ever seen employees leave as though dominos had been knocked over?…e.g. if you lose one, you lose many in a hurry?  I have. The cost and negative cultural impact to a company can be staggering. In fact, it goes further. If many employees leave, the word gets out that the company is a bad place to work, which makes it hard to attract top talent. Ever checked the employer reviews at Glassdoor.com?

Optimal Professional Roles

Managers and HR professionals make the colossal mistakes of putting people into job roles for which they are a poor fit and of not understanding what makes their employees tick. There are clear and well-documented reasons why specific personality types get along so well, and therefore make great teammates.  I recently had a student in one of my soft skills classes who was a Systems Engineer (SE) for a manufacturer. He is very good at his job, but I don’t think he’s very happy in that particular role because it requires too much social interaction for his particular personality type. As I began to understand more of his personality type, I mentioned to him that perhaps a Technical Marketing Engineer (TME) role would be a better fit. When I described the typical manufacturer’s TME role, he seemed to see it as a good fit for his personality. That company would do themselves and this employee a big service by moving him into a TME role as soon as possible. He would be happier, would produce excellent work (because that’s a role which has requirements that he’s naturally suited for), and would likely never consider going to another company to find greener pastures or a more comfortable work environment.

I’ve heard managers complain about some employees (like me) being disruptive, but they usually don’t realize that such an employee, if managed properly, could use that same disruptive energy to be amazingly productive and successful. I’m a Type 8 personality, and as personalities go, there’s none more naturally abrasive and disruptive. Yet, 8s will go to the ends of the earth to accomplish a goal. They are protective, dutiful, responsible, and extremely hard-working….to the point of constant exhaustion. If you don’t manage an 8 well, you’ll find that they are often disruptive, disrespectful, pushy, controlling, over-worked, and domineering. If you do manage an 8 well, like giving them a big challenge and free reign to accomplish the goal, you’ll find an employee who will give you blood, sweat, and tears to get the job done. Whether they reach their potential is determined by how well they are managed. It’s exactly the same with all of the other personality types. Do you know your personality type? How about the types of your employees?

Getting Started

Understanding what makes people tick isn’t just advantageous in the workplace, but also in the home and in personal relationships. Happier people make better employees, and better corporate culture leads to much higher profits.

I teach a 3-day soft skills class that will change how employees think about themselves and others. Mindfulness. Self-awareness. Compassion. Thoughtfulness. These come natural to very few individuals, but they can be taught.

It’s All About The People