Tuesday 9 February 2016 2:13 am

Why modern managers need these five vital old-school skills

Managers have been around for millennia. But even with this much collective experience, the Chartered Management Institute’s (CMI) research shows that four in five are still “accidental managers” – those that find themselves in the role without proper practice or training.

Some insight into why is provided by the finalists of CMI’s Management Book of the Year Awards 2016, created to help managers choose the best management books from among thousands. They show that, while the core skills of management remain the same, how we understand the needs of those around us has changed dramatically – and that’s predominantly down to technology.

Of course, technology might have permanently changed how we manage, but it has not replaced the importance of excellent people skills. These remain fundamental to good management. So, as the finalists’ books show, in order to succeed, we must get the balance between human and technology right.

Use big data

The rise of technology provides an invaluable new way to connect teams and manage people. Bernard Marr’s book Big Data explains how analysis of data can enable firms to do this – and some of the insights are surprising. For example, an American bank found that candidates from non-prestige universities were outperforming Ivy League candidates (which generally cost more to attract), allowing the business to recruit the right talent for less money.

Have difficult conversations

While technology has huge benefits, the human touch must not be forgotten. Being able to have that dreaded “difficult conversation” and knowing when to force action are two examples of where there is no excuse for poor people skills. Stuart Duff’s iLEAD provides some practical exercises for managers to help build these skills. One such tip is “know when to stop”. It is not your responsibility to force someone into action. In the end, all you can do is make sure they understand your message.

Give employees the benefit of the doubt

Similarly, Neuroscience for Leadership by Tara Swart, Kitty Chisholm and Paul Brown shows how new scientific evidence can help managers work more effectively with people by understanding how the brain processes information.

While we may get frustrated with our colleagues for not understanding a seemingly clear brief, our brains are highly selective in what they choose to notice and pay attention to, interpreting the same explanation in very different ways. If this problem recurs, try asking the person to confirm in their own words what you have asked them to do.

Strike a balance

As Steven Van Belleghem highlights in When Digital Becomes Human, if you can strike the balance between genuine human insight while still having a necessary reliance on technology, you’ll have found a winning combination. Every business must digitise to survive and those that don’t won’t. The key here is to ensure that, when technology breaks, managers have the people skills to fill the gap.

Think like a startup

This year’s Management Book of the Year, Frugal Innovation by Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu, offers a good insight into how managers can use a balanced skill set to turn their business into an innovative, agile one.

By taking the mindset of entrepreneurs and creatively making the most of limited resources, managers can develop a clear sense of purpose, and work more effectively. Combined with a scientific understanding of human behaviour, the managers of today are well placed to shape workplace behaviour.