If we care about the success of our people and our businesses, we cannot keep ignoring the importance of people skills.
Every business is a “people business.” A/E firms, in particular, are people businesses. And all we sell is labor. Even if you are a solo practitioner with no employees, you have clients. And clients are people!
What are the implications of this fact? There are many!
- Many clients hire architects and engineers not because they feel they need the plans they create to build something, but rather so they can help secure a building permit for a given project. To be successful doing that, the design professional will have to answer a whole host of questions and influence people. That takes people skills.
- As a design professional, you will always have to consider the likely or actual human reaction to every single thing you do or say. We all have to sell. We all have to influence. We all have to work with others both inside and outside of the organization. And we all have to avoid turning people off. The ability to do – or not do – these things is based in large part on people skills. Design and technical professionals who have these skills are far more valuable and more successful over the long haul than those who don’t.
- The best design abilities or technical skills are useless without the requisite people skills. It’s kind of like having flour without yeast when you are trying to make bread. The yeast is the activator. Just like people skills are the activator for design or technical abilities for everyone working in our business. They are required to function at any level in an A/E firm.
- There are less people with design and/or technical skills who also have people skills, than there are people who have design or technical skills alone. This makes those who have people skills more rare and therefore more valuable than those who don’t. And it is why firms in this business struggle with having enough people who can sell work, manage people and projects, and move into their leadership posts as the business grows and evolves.
- Training in people skills is desperately lacking and badly needed. As someone who has taught at the university level, I firmly believe that we don’t do enough in colleges and universities to help our students learn these skills. Engineers and architects, in particular, have little to no time in their course schedules for coursework in management, writing, selling, public speaking, leadership, and other subjects that would help them have better “people skills.” Then, when they get into the workforce post-graduate, any formal training they get from their employers is most likely going to be on something related to how to use a particular piece of software. Once again, the most important skills to the employees’ eventual success are ignored. Makes no sense to me!
- As the society becomes increasingly polarized, these people skills become even more important than they ever were. With everyone on edge, people are more likely to experience feelings of anger or outrage as a direct response to something someone says, or does, or puts out there on social media. Many people feel that they have to identify themselves as being in one camp or the other on every single topic or issue. Having people skills can help design professionals negotiate the minefield of professional life today in a polarized society, and make the difference between their survival or lack of it in their profession.
People skills – if we care about the success of our people and our businesses, we cannot keep ignoring their importance and just hope that the problem will go away. It won’t happen on its own!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.