In order to create any desired change, people’s behavior will also need to change. Typically, this starts with a core group of people who have a positive attitude towards the change; the so-called frontrunners. We often see middle managers being a part of this group and also taking up a leading role leveraging their extensive network, people knowledge and leadership skills. They coach and train, offer support and show exemplary behavior during the change process. To support them in their essential position, they should be able to hone their non-technical skills (often also called ‘soft skills’). These interpersonal skills are not always given the attention they deserve as these can greatly boost the effect and success rate of middle managers.
According to research among 2,000 workers of all levels, the three most important interpersonal skills are:
- Communication skills
- Leadership and influencing
- Empathy and fostering inclusion
It is no surprise that communication skills are seen as the top non-technical skill. This is essential for success on a personal level but also on team and company levels. All stakeholders have to be kept up to date on progress, need and want to understand ‘what’s in it for them’ and which milestones and (intermediate) goals need to be met by the team. Additionally, to realize internal buy-in, it is highly recommended to regularly communicate about best practices, praise exemplary change leaders and also to be transparent about setbacks.
To reflect the importance of all of interpersonal skills, it is advisable to involve the human resources department in an early stage of the change project. They can help with facilitating training and development programs for non-technical skills. It will also help to acknowledge the importance of these types of skills by embedding them in the job role descriptions, in balanced score cards and in vacancy descriptions, for example.