Skills Are Not Enough to Keep You HiredBy Joan Lloyd
Technical skills can get you hired, but even great technical
skills can’t keep you hired. Without at least a passable
grade in communication and interpersonal skills, your career can
Consider the predicament Wayne finds himself in. He’s a 47 year-old engineer, who has moved up the ranks to a Senior Engineer position in a global company. His managers have tolerated his know-it-all attitude because he is good at what he does. He has alienated his colleagues through the years, because of his condescending remarks and sarcastic barbs. Now some of those colleagues have moved up. Now his star isn’t shining as brightly, since some of the senior managers refuse to consider him for a managerial job. Last week, one of those senior leaders objected to putting Wayne on a key, cross-functional project. He told Wayne’s boss, “Some of our best people don’t want to work with Wayne.” In fact, he is putting pressure on Wayne’s boss to “do something about Wayne.”
Maybe you know someone like this. Maybe you are someone like this. The situation framework may be similar, but perhaps some of the problematic behaviors are different. You can substitute “know-it-all” with “rude,” “politically clueless,” “overly negative,” or any number of behaviors. But the outcome is often the same. The “Waynes” careers stall, because they thought their technical contribution trumped everything else.
Why does this happen?
For starters, some managers have no courage, or they are too self-serving to give Wayne the feedback he needs. Instead of sitting him down and telling him the truth about how his behavior is getting in the way, they let it go on because they are getting things done. They hope Wayne will catch on, or someone else will tell him. These managers don’t want to go looking for Wayne’s replacement. They tolerate his behavior, knowing it will hurt him down the road, but helping them in the short run.
Even the managers, who do tell Wayne his behavior needs to change, often soft-pedal the message. The manager may mention it in one line at the end of a glowing performance review. And they will mention it year after year, with no action plan, or emphasis on why it needs to change. The salary increases keep going up, so why would Wayne do anything but blow it off?
If the manager does tell Wayne straight, it sometimes falls on deaf ears. Wayne has been rewarded his entire life by messages that his brains and his skills are really what count. His teachers, parents, pals, spouse may have reinforced this over many years. So, now that a manager is telling him something contrary to that, why should Wayne take it very seriously?
What can be done?
If you are a manager who has a Wayne, you owe it to your employee to share the truth and lay out how it hurts him or her. If they ignore your feedback, you may have to establish negative consequences such as not assigning them to a project or even taking them off a project to make it sink in. It will get their attention. Once you have their commitment, establish a doable, behavioral action plan. It can sound like this:
“You have great technical skills and I know you want to make a big contribution here but you are doing something that is getting in your way now, and could derail your career down the line. I care about you and want you to be successful, so I want to help you correct it now, before it does too much damage.
At times you act like a “know it all.” Let me explain what I mean with some examples, give specifics. You may think that you are the smartest person in the room but if you convey that to others you will lose followership. You will get a reputation for being arrogant and people will not want to work with you, or for you. You can’t reach your own goals without being collaborative with others. Some of this is already happening. I am already questioning whether I can put you in charge of several sensitive projects. Let’s discuss how to handle some of these situations differently. I don’t want to start limiting your opportunities, so let’s fix this.”
Some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with take their coaching role very seriously. They believe they owe it to their employees to help them change negative behaviors that could derail them, not just extract results for the short term.