Managing people vs. managing skills

Most—if not all—service businesses are people centric in nature. And most often, managers and business owners assume the key to success to be their ability to manage people. People are the most important assets of our organization is one of those clichés that you would hear ever so regularly from such companies. While this does sound like the way to go—and indeed is the politically correct thing to profess—it is proper management of the various skills at work that defines business success.

Managing skills vs. managing people has its nuances and often it’s a very thin line that separates the two. Non-performing service companies hardly ever suffer from having the wrong people; it is the improper fitment of skills that is almost always the actual problem. It is precisely for this reason that managers need to give ample thought and bandwidth to skill management as opposed to people management.

Having said that, laying out the differences between the two is a rather tricky path to tread, but I’d still take a shot. Consider skill management as a science and people management as an art. Managing skills is a function of defined requirements and business objectives. On the other hand, people management is about channelizing motivations and aspirations of intelligent individuals. Even the metrics that define the success of a skill manager vis-a-vis a people manager tell the same story. Skill management manifests in project success and client satisfaction – metrics that can be defined quantitatively. People management, on the contrary, is gauged by the level of employee satisfaction. Surveys can attempt to gauge that level, but can never back it with verifiable accuracy.

A manager’s role often shuttles between managing skills as a supervisor and being a professional mentor who can handle aspirations. Unfortunately, for the average manager, the rigmarole of deliverables and deadlines is often too taxing to consciously spend effort on the evolution of individuals in the team. Given that there is no real science to it, this can be achieved only by the manager’s ability to consciously segregate skill development and the individual’s overall growth. One possible way of achieving this could be to make the periodic appraisal process more retrospective and interpersonal. On an ongoing basis too, managers should take a step back every once in a while and reflect on what the individuals look up to him for beyond the ability to rally resources. Being a good manager and a good leader are two different ballgames. But then, that’s another topic altogether…

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