Transitioning from managing process to leading people

By Tim Harnett

Organizations today are being increasingly judged on their relationships with their employees as much as by their ability to produce goods or services.1 As we move further into the next industrial age, tools and processes will become less important than how leaders interact with their people. Poor communication accounts for an average loss of $62.4 million per year at companies with 100,000 employees and $420,000 per year at companies with fewer than 100 employees.2

The need for leaders to have superlative communication skills is one factor in the rise of the demand for more and better soft skills among leaders. Soft skills development has emerged as one of the biggest needs in companies today, according to Richard Richards, champion of presence: leader, individual and virtual for Ariel. “There’s been a shift from people managing organizations to leading people. Managing may be more focused around processes, while leading inspires people toward a common strategic vision or organizational goal.”

Going forward, soft skills training and development will be a crucial part of leadership development. But how can organizations provide leaders (especially new leaders who will replace retiring workforce members) with soft skills training and development?

Invest in developing your hi-pos’ soft skills

Recent research identified a lack of applicant soft skills as one of the top drivers of the talent shortage.3 As organizations look inward to develop a talent pipeline, they’ll need to build out employees’ soft skills abilities. Formal assessments and leader observations can identify how employees feel about how they’re being managed. Once they establish a baseline, organizations can identify skills gaps among the high potentials who will be called upon to lead.

Younger workers want insight into how their role impacts the organization, making transparency a critical leadership tool for the next generation of leaders. “Don’t shield your workers from the inner workings of the organization,” Richards cautions. “Employees want to feel accomplished and know where they fit into the larger business context. This comes through transparency and relationship building, with leaders who see employees less as people who need to be managed and more as people who need to be envisioned and empowered.”

Follow through once the training is over

Deloitte’s latest Human Capital Trends report identified the rise of the social enterprise — and noted organizations have the responsibility for investing in their own employees.4 Soft skills training is one such investment, but organizations need to follow through to ensure that skills transfer happens on the job. “Training is only 20 percent of the equation,” Richards says. “Without organizational support to develop employee soft skills, there won’t be any improvement later on.” Training reinforcement is a must to ensure soft skills are being put into practice.

It’s also important to adapt leadership competency models to reflect the need for soft skills development. “If soft skills competencies aren’t measured anywhere, how can they be evaluated?” Richards asks. “How will you know learning transfer is achieved if it isn’t documented? If organizations want their culture to adapt, then including soft skills development in competency models too is a good place to start.”

Don’t neglect your employees’ virtual presence

Telecommuting has exploded in popularity recently: since 2005 regular work-at-home opportunities have increased by 140 percent.5 As organizations move from conducting business physically to meeting and communicating virtually, it’s important to recognize how soft skills apply to an employee’s virtual presence. “Think about all the ways you prepare to meet someone face to face,” Richards says. “Are you doing those same things for a virtual call? Soft skills are just as important in the virtual world as the physical one, if not more so. The opportunities for distraction are greater online and there’s a tendency to be very transactional in the virtual space. Employees need an empathic virtual presence to better connect with other humans.” After all, what is the virtual equivalent of a warm handshake (or appreciative pat on the back)?

“The only way to teach soft skills is to engage the participant emotionally and experientially,” Richards says. “To engage your employees, your training programs should engage the heart as well as the mind.” Coaching and developing employees so they have a better understanding of the role they play in the organization will be crucial in the coming years. Organizations should focus on soft skills development for this reason — starting at the top.

To learn more about how Ariel can improve soft skills among your workforce, visit

1 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital TrendsThe rise of the social enterprise.

2 Grossman, D. (2013). “The Cost of Poor Communications.” Society for Human Resource Management.

3 Manpower Group. 2018 Talent Shortage Survey.

4 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends — The rise of the social enterprise.

5 Global Workplace Analytics (2018). Telecommuting Trend Data (Updated July 2018).

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