Response to Jeff Weiner: Worker Skills Gap
By Thomas B. Cross @techtionary
Jeff Wiener CEO of Linkedin appeared on CBS Morning News June 14 where he identified the top critical skills missing from new-hires and I would add, skills missing from existing staffers. The missing skills include – Inter-personal skills, Communications, Reasoning and Team Coordination. Through this two-minute briefing, I will address each of these issues with specific remedies.
Let’s start with:
Inter-personal Skills – is this just a human-to-human communication issue or something else. One might argue that technology drives human behavior and then human behavior will use technology in other ways we may or may not understand. Inter-personal skills start with assuming we are both communicating in the same language and using the same medium to complete the communications process. If you have ever tried to speak with another person, even from the same town, you realize that any kind of communication is hard whether with words or hand signals. It is so hard that I have a saying: “communication will always fail, except by chance.” If you add in different cultures, sex, age, education, upbringing, work ethics, sleep patterns (morning person versus night person), speech patterns, even astrological sign (yes, I have proof), moon cycle and more, it becomes even harder and I am just getting started. Jeff also added to “manage compassionately” not explaining what that is, means or even some how-top’s he presumed to suggest that we knew what that was. Well, Jeff we don’t know what that means and so we can’t do what we don’t know how to manage except the way we are doing it now. Where’s your book? The reason for mentioning it at all is the “assumption”: that is, when people say something we should know what he or she is talking about.
I believe that improving inter-personal skills starts really not from talking but from listening. We have two ears and one mouth built-in for a reason. We should listen twice as much as we speak. Or, if you prefer another way is that hearing is so hard we need two ears to understand what another mouth is saying. Only by listening can you begin to understand or try to understand what another person is saying. I have worked on projects where the contractor always said they understood what I was saying but the issue was never fixed until I sent them pictures and then they began to understand what I was talking about. Yes, pictures are worth a thousand words maybe even more with video and animation. However, I don’t think Jeff was really talking about sending people pictures but about how people work together. You often notice people with similar jobs have similar communication patterns. They talk in their own language of acronyms to help them “speed dial” talking together. People have a such fixation with acronyms to short-cut saying the whole phrase or disguising it for specific reasons. WTF is a favorite used by far too many. With people from different groups within the same organization communication can become more difficult. Some organizations have built elaborate business processes to help one group show how things work in another department. In addition, the larger the organization the number of interactions rises geometrically to the point that the CEO speaks a completely different language from the contact center agent talking with a customer it seems they’re speaking a foreign language. So far, I outlined a few but certainly not all of the problems in interpersonal communication even if you like people you work with. It really gets hard trying to get through the fog or haze trying to communicate with people you really don’t like.
Hey Jeff, here are my suggestions to improve your Top-3:
– Inter-personal Skills & Communication – Train them because you can’t do what you don’t know – hold company classes with role-playing activities to show and demonstrate people in same or different departments what works and what doesn’t – mix new-hire with old-guard to demonstrate how each group communicates. It gives each group a chance to improve, document and share the results. This is really important, Jeff, because just saying people should be better at something doesn’t mean they know how to, have the management commitment to the process or ongoing support to continue. People will often drift back to their old ways. This is not necessarily bad, but people work toward finding their own comfortable working habits (like their lifestyles). Training gets them aligned with what they should be in the organization. Training people is a good start, but the organization needs to inculcate inter-personal communication skills into hopefully every interaction in the organization. If you don’t use it, you lose as the saying goes. If you need more on this, read about information entropy.
– Reasoning – not exactly sure what Jeff was talking about, but here goes. Reasoning is not just the understanding of what you are talking about, but also negotiating to be reasonable in working toward solutions. All too often one person thinks they know the answer when they really don’t understand the problem. Thus, they couldn’t possibly have a realistic answer. I also think that reasoning is about team building and collaboration. As one person clones themselves to delegate part of their job, the next person often delegates tasks to others and so-on. Inherent in that transfer is the assumption that the receiver (staffer) knows what the sender (boss) really means. Not just in doing the task, but the how, the meaning, and purpose of the task. In nearly all presentations by venture capitalists, they are asked the major causes of startup failures and successes. In one recent VC presentation the presenter used the term “dysfunctional teams” then went on to explain companies fail because they “fail to communicate.” When asked why people are not communicating and reasoning with one another, thus resulting in a lack of team coordination, I contend that the answer is a gap in this leg of the skills stool.
Team Coordination – another grossly over-promoted concept with failure written all over the “high tech” solutions being used. Adding technology to a problem as one VC put it, is like the adage “I’m here from the government to help” or “throwing money at the problem in hope that it will fix it.” Technology will never make you less boring, give you charisma, provide inspiration to lead or anything else. You must assume that it will make whatever problem you have much worse. A power saw just cuts faster and does not make you Frank Lloyd Wright. From my experience, and exhaustive personal research, any kind of team coordination starts with great (not good) leadership. This circles back to the first issue of inter-personal communication. While most believe that there are “born leaders,” I believe you can make anyone into a leader. Maybe not the leaders of the company, but we’ve all heard of and studied people who have worked their way from the bottom to the top by working on their leadership skills (“Leadership is an Art”, by Max Depree). In some cases, the skills were passed on, or learned on the job, from their dad (“Father, Son & Company – My Life at IBM and Beyond,” by Thomas J. Watson Jr.). I would also like to add that there are people like Alan Turing (father of digital computing), Claude Shannon (father of information theory), Tom Edison, Steve Jobs and so many others that are individual contributors and leaders but not team. Otherwise, cut them loose, fund their own ideas and help them succeed on their own or build teams around them.
Great leaders build great teams and they know how to communicate with their team members because they are trained or learn by all their past “failures to communicate.” Once you begin to communicate effectively, you can overlay technology “power tools” to help staff and managers in their group operations. Never the reverse.
Summary – Inter-personal communication is hard, but then all jobs are hard until you learn how to do them. Starting and growing a business is based on “lifting all boats” via trained professionals including building strong communications and business processes. Realizing that conflict and crisis will occur and people that are trained will be ready to tackle all the knowns and unknowns ahead. From the vantage of “we’re all on the same page,” team coordination is non-issue because the group and groups operate seamlessly together.
Jeff, sorry this is so long but its only three-minute answer to what you said. I just hope I heard what you said correctly.
Reference: A bibliography is available on request, however here are some highlights:
About Claude Shannon: “A Mind at Play” by Jimmy Soni & Rob Goodman
“Leadership is an Art” by Max Depree
“Father, Son & Co. – My Life at IBM and Beyond” by Thomas J. Watson & Peter
“Turing” by B. Jack. Copeland
“Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant” by Ulysses S. Grant