Anyone who’s ever worked alongside other people knows how important it is for personalities to mesh well. Harmonious, collaborative interactions not only make the workday more pleasant, but they can lead to innovation, increased productivity and reduced costs thanks to lower turnover. 

People Skills

As it turns out, harmony or soap-opera style drama doesn’t have to depend on the innate character of each employee. In reality, most of the ways people create harmonious interpersonal relationships can be taught and learned. In other words, working well with others rests on a suite of skills that can be selected for in the interviewing process and further developed in existing employees.

In a study released in October 2013, education company Chegg identified a list of skills that help people get along in a workplace. They called these “Office Street Smarts.”

This list included:

  • Project collaboration as part of a team
  • Making persuasive arguments
  • Writing to encourage action or make a specific request
  • Collaboration with people of diverse backgrounds
  • Communication with authority figures and clients
  • Managing up
  • Public speaking
  • Leadership
  • Organization
  • Time management

4 Ways to Get “Smart”

So what can you do to encourage a workplace full of “street smart” employees?

1. Hiring

The first place to tip the scales in favor of these skills is in the hiring process. Depending on the position, higher-order thinking skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, clear writing and original ideas are more likely to matter than whether a candidate has a certain number of years of experience in a certain position or what training they’ve already received.

In a world where people can learn “hard skills” on-the-job or through online training and look up information in an instant, the “soft skills” that can’t be easily taught are the ones to search for in resumes, cover letters and interviews.

Place candidates in situations where they are likely to reveal their communication skills, ask for an in-person writing sample relevant to your business (as resumes and CVs might have been heavily edited by someone else), and challenge them to solve a problem that requires original, creative thought. Additionally, it’s becoming more common for employers to ask candidates to work on a project on a contract basis before making a permanent employment offer.

2. Training

Of course you likely already have a team of employees and you want to help them improve the workplace atmosphere, productivity and success of your business by helping them to improve their office street smarts.

In this case, it’s worth creating programs, courses, or even office missions that support your business goals. It doesn’t have to be arduous or expensive, either. In fact keeping it simple and fun is best. At Milwaukee law firm von Briesen & Roper, training is offered in an Apple-store-like setting for 90 minutes once a week. Employees meet with a trainer for five minutes and learn a skill, one-on-one, and are then given a handout. The skill is simple enough to be immediately practiced and completely relevant to their job function.

Further, the more you can gamify such training or make it fun, rewarding or part of the culture, the better. (Hint: RedCritter can help you do all these things!)

3. Create a Culture

Any skills and behaviors really important to the success of your business, the engagement of your employees and the atmosphere of your workplace, must be modeled by the leaders in the company. Executives and managers that demonstrate the skills they want their employees to take on are critical to shaping the culture.

That may mean making more of an effort to communicate better, both verbally and in written form, to employees, or it may mean creating a culture where the leadership is transparent in processes that require creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and persuasion/negotiation.

The more employees see, in real-time and in real ways, the skills that the company values being practiced, the more they will value and the faster they will adopt those very same skills.

Additionally, by creating a strong, visible culture that values the soft skills that make up office street smarts, the more your brand passively recruits the employees who share the same qualities your business values and practices.

4. Make Learning Social

One of the conditions of learning (at any age) is a social environment that feels safe and welcoming. Encourage mentorship between seasoned employees and those who are new. Encourage the development of trusted relationships and liberally promote collaborative opportunities. Look for ways to foster the sharing of information, the building of relationships and the cross-pollination of ideas.

The more exposure someone gets to those who already exemplify the culture and skillset valued by your business, the more they will be inclined to step up and take the initiative to develop skills they see but that they may themselves be lacking.

RedCritter can help you foster a “street smart” employee culture by creating rewards and recognition around street smart behaviors, so look into the ways you can utilize us to help in this area.

Trust the Process

To a certain extent, if you can create the culture, provide the opportunities, and recruit and hire well, the best you can do is trust that your employees will want to excel and advance. If that means they need to develop their office street smarts, the ones who will be an asset to your company will do it.

It’s true these skills are in short supply and that employers are always looking to find employees who are already office street smart. But the grass is greener where you water it, so remember that these skills can be grown!