It is with great enthusiasm that I am launching the first full 24-hour course in soft skills for the SciencesPo Management and Sustainability MBA program.
“Perform at Your Best: Be the Team Member You Want To Have” begins next week.
This course is inspired by a training program I lead (in French) for 1st time managers in startups: “Boost Team Trust: Be the Manager You Dream of Having” (“Devenir le Manager que Vous Avez Rêvé d’Avoir”)
As you may know, SciencesPo is a French institution and prides itself in the quality of its education. The training is essentially oriented towards hard skills: mastery of finances, excellence in measuring market trends, and more.
Soft skills – the capabilities of collaborating effectively as a team, of engaging colleagues and influencing decision, of negotiating win-win agreements – are, well, soft. How does one verify mastery? How does one grade such a topic?
It’s a question that managers ask too. How does one measure the benefits of relationship skills?
How does one measure the benefits of relationship skills?
I do not pretend to read the minds of the SciencesPo leadership team. I can, however, share three elements that helped convinced them to invest in building these skills for their upcoming graduates.
1. Graduates are unprepared without soft skills
Managers (and studies) attest that graduates from top schools are insufficiently prepared for the working world. They know what to do…not how. This gap creates inefficiencies.
I remember my first job out of Harvard Business School.
Following my love for fashion, I landed an internship with a children’s clothes manufacturer. My mission: to identify market trends and to help division managers integrate these findings into their upcoming collections.
Completing the research and analyzing the findings was the easy part.
The challenge lay in facing these seasoned-worked-my-way-up-the-ladder managers, with a you-are-book-smart-but-we-are-street-smart-and-everyone-knows-that-is-what-counts attitude. No matter what I presented as numbers, they were committed to doing their own thing.
I felt disarmed.
I would mount an argument around facts. They purposefully played on a different field which deflated the power of my conclusions.
The challenge lay in facing these seasoned-worked-my-way-up-the-ladder managers, with a you-are-book-smart-but-we-are-street-smart attitude.
It is like my wings were clipped. I was prepared to soar like an eagle with my asset of a great education. Instead, I was reduced to walking. Every see an eagle march? Not often. Not effective.
New graduates face similar circumstances. The quality of their technical skills are less appreciated without the people skills to engage with their colleagues (internal clients) or customers.
2. People skills are SKILLS and can be learned
Advances in neuroscience, behavioral sciences, psychology all point to the fact that relationship skills can be taught.
You have heard (or even said), “That’s the way I am. Deal with it.”
It is true that we are each uniquely made. It is also true that we are each on a life journey. Movement.
Think back to last year. Back then, kids thought a mask was a Halloween costume. In September 2019, how many of us realized that it took courage to work in a grocery store? Our grocers rank among the first to affront exposure to Covid-19.
Are you the same person you were last fall? Of course not. Let me guess. Did you grow in empathy upon seeing the children’s toys behind your colleague during the Zoom meeting?!
You know from your own experience that behavorial skills can be learned. Like reading, writing, and arithmetic.
And, as with academics, a framework for learning acts like a coat rack, a series of hooks upon which we organize our knowledge. We can easily access them to apply them out in the real world.
What is my framework, the one that convinced SciencesPo?
Inspired by Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford (who researches about growth and fixed mindset) and Julie Zhuo (previously VP Design at Facebook and author of Making of a Manager), I build my course on four categories of relationship-related tools:
Our mindset determines which tools we will pick from the 3P’s. To learn more about these, I regularly share on the topic so follow me for details.
The point here is that there is no one right way to behave. Appropriate communication skills are context driven.
We learned from John Newton that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. This also applies in relationships.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
My course helps learners build self-awareness. They identify which Purpose, People, Process, and Mindset tools they currently use (their actions) and how others react to them (the reactions).
(By the way, people often take their behaviors for granted. It’s the other person initiating the disturbance, not them reacting to us.)
Class participants realize their Behavior A instigates Response Z in the other person. If, however, they seek Response Y, they could tweak their Purpose, People, Process, or Mindset actions in order to invite a different response.
Change might not happen exactly as we hoped it would. Humans are…humans after all. And that is exciting.
Yet, learners in my program learn and master tools which foster responsibility for our part in relationships.
We can tweak our actions to keep aiming for connection and collaboration and positive outcomes with others. Yes, we can.
3. This is a concrete approach to building soft skills
I present a concrete approach to building soft skills.
One of the criteria for a reputable university is to provide a measuring system for learning. Are the essentials merely understood…or are they mastered?
It matters to future employers too. How did this person rank within his/her class? Are they someone who just gets by or do they truly invest themselves in the pursuit of excellence?
My challenge lay in providing an assurance of transformation results. There would be a “before” and “after” the class.
Here is what I proposed to SciencesPo (and what I propose for managers and team members too).
Experiential learning stimulates change
Through interactive exercises inspired by neuroscience and psychology participants grow. These activities include collective brainstorming, 1:1 discussions, individual reflexion, role plays, and more.
These experiential activities generate “Aha! Moments” of self-discovery. Participants realize on their own the impact of their behavior on others.
I love how this photo catches their expressions when they discovered that they come across as bossy. 😨 They thought they were merely giving instructions, but it came across as controlling. They KNOW this kind of speech is unpleasant and demotivating because they experienced it.
Participants now WANT to change.
Class members learn techniques to give clear instructions without being directive. Find out more here.
Learning is based on actual business cases
The collective intelligence sessions for overcoming relationship challenges are particularly appreciated. A participant presents a sticky situation she/he currently faces and we uncover solutions together.
Each of us, when under pressure, lose the ability to step back and gain fresh perspective. Our confidence also petters out…like a balloon with a tiny puncture.
In the class, I lead the group through a structured collective intelligence process which assures psychological safety.
- We clarify the issue
- We initiate a role play where the person with the relationship challenge takes on the role of the person with whom they have difficulty
- We embark in a collective search for alternative ways to handle the situation
- The person chooses which solution suits her/his style, context, and confidence level
- We practice implementing the solution with another role play
Everyone comes away enriched.
The person with the challenges gains fresh perspective.
Those contributing solutions also grow in confidence. They realize they already have elements of answers. They know where to go for more. They feel equiped.
Young professionals feel equiped to handle relationship challenges with confidence.
My personal mission is to invest in the next generation of leaders. To help them make a living and have a life. It is an honor and a delight to do so through this first soft skills class for the MBA program at SciencesPo. Thank you for the opportunity.