As the IT services market continues to mature, so does the need for managed IT services providers to polish their skills. These skills aren’t all technical in nature – in fact, there’s an increasing appreciation towards more relational skills. This is the difference between what I like to call “hard skills” versus “soft skills.”
The "hard skills" of your people allow you to play in the game. The "soft skills" of your people determine your profitability, growth rate, employee engagement, client loyalty and how well you retain employees and clients. Continue reading to learn how you and your business could fail without one specific soft skill!
Why Are Soft Skills Important?
Foundational soft skills determine whether your clients look forward to seeing your people, or dread their visit. They could be the determining factor between business success and failure. Here are the key soft skills we teach in Dave's Charm School, the only soft skills training program for managed service providers:
Managing Client Expectations – Onsite Service Call
Managing Client Expectations – Remote Service Call
Client Experience Bookends
Catching Concerns – Before They Escalate into Major Problems
Communication 101 – Verbal and Written Standards
No Drama – Anger and Conflict Management
Relationships – Be a Behavioral Expert
Relationships – Be a Master Motivator
But what is the one soft skill that you must consistently demonstrate to everyone else in order to promote success?
What Do You Want to Be Remembered for?
Gary Black Sr., a friend of mine, tells the following story of his retirement dinner after 35 years working for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. His final 16 years he served as their Chief Claims Executive:
“My successor told me to come prepared for a big show at my retirement party, as she had invited several hundred folks. I did prepare. I made a list of all those who had helped me with the major accomplishments in my career in order to thank them and give them [the] credit they rightfully deserved. It seemed like an endless stream of people got up to speak, many I had known my entire career.
But when all was said and done, not one single business success of mine had been mentioned. I was stunned. I felt like a failure. I was beginning to think I had accomplished nothing in 35 years.
One of my sons asked the question: ‘Did you notice that nobody mentioned anything on your list?’ Before I could fumble for [an] answer one of my daughters-in-law said, ‘I noticed that too… all they talked about was your character.’
I’m not saying that results are not important, because they are. In fact, if your results were not great, you would not be sitting here today. And if my results weren’t acceptable, I would not have held a job for 35 years. A leader who is all about good intentions and nothing about results will soon find themselves unemployed or holding a political office somewhere. But what was proven to me on the date of my retirement is that as a leader, my focus was on business results, but what matters most to those I was leading was my character.
I suggest to you that the people I lead are no different than those you lead. Results are what we produce. Character is about how we go about producing the results.
In my case, I mistakenly spent a career thinking others were willing to follow me only because of accomplishments. The sobering question is how many times did my character disappoint my staff and how much more could I have accomplished had I been aware of the importance of character? Had I realized that, I certainly would have watched more carefully how I went about getting my results.”
Gary’s story illustrates how character defines a person more than performance ever could. You could have the greatest soft skills in the world, but if you lack character there is no foundation for lasting relationships or success. As Gary stated, the value of character lies in the fact that it’s about how we go about doing what we do. When you consistently demonstrate good character over time, people trust you.
If you want your people to demonstrate good character when you're not around, then start with yourself. As you make decisions, consider what it would look like if they were to be published on the front page of your local newspaper. Would you be comfortable with that write-up? If not, it’s probably an indication that you should change some of your habits.
As a leader, consider how the legacy of your actions and decisions are being portrayed to those around you. Even the smallest displays of good character can go a long way. Some ways to implement this into your business could be to conduct proper meeting etiquette by being punctual, prepared, and maybe establishing a closed laptop policy in place to promote engagement. In a similar manner, you can execute good character when dealing with clients by being productive in meetings and showing them your a dependable business advisor.
As one last example, I recently read an article that emphasized the importance of understanding how your behavior as a leader impacts others. One example the writer used was a leader who started wearing cowboy boots to work. Within six months all of his managers were wearing cowboy boots. A short time later the boss shifted back to wearing business shoes. Within six months all of his managers were wearing business shoes.
The point is, your people follow your example of behavior both consciously as well as subconsciously. This is why how you choose to display your character is most important. It affects everyone around you.
In closing, I suggest you consider these four simple facts:
As a leader, you are a role model for behavior.
You cannot have a successful long-term career without good character.
The character of every member of your team, including yourself, is tested every day, and often, every hour.
Bad company corrupts good character. Be very careful of the people you associate with at work and in your personal life. Choosing to spend your time with people of good character helps you develop stronger values and beliefs and consistently behave with integrity.
Email me if you want to consider developing new habits to strengthen the character foundation of your leadership and organization. In the meantime, check out these other helpful blogs that I’ve written:
By Lily Teplow
By Scott Wittstock
By Gretchen Hoffman