Four Key Skills for Success

April 13th, 2011 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Success - (0 Comments)

It doesn’t matter whether you have completed a university degree, other higher education courses or just completed some level of schooling, when starting work in an organisation or in your own business, the four fundamental key skills for success in your personal or business life, that emerge from numerous studies, are:

  1. Communication. The ability to communicate effectively, through both written and oral skills, is always at the top of the list for achieving success. Business transactions mainly involve the interaction between people, therefore, building relationships with people requires effective communication and interpersonal skills. Persuasive communication skills are also needed to influence other people, whether in your own organisation or in another organisation.
  2. Negotiation. Negotiating terms and deals is important in business and personal life, whether you are engaged in a licensing deal, a distribution agreement, a manufacturing contract, sales terms, or simply purchasing a new motor vehicle or house. A good understanding of the process of negotiation and the different strategies available will assist you in your business and personal life.
  3. Creativity. Being able to tap into your creative abilities will allow you to generate new ideas for new business opportunities. Creativity is also needed to solve complex problems through identifying and sourcing innovative solutions or looking at problems from a different perspective. Furthermore, the ability to identify new business opportunities that other people have overlooked requires the right mindset, including, an open mind that is able to make the appropriate connections in the business environment or marketplace.
  4. Marketing/selling. The ability to market yourself and your organisation increases your exposure in the marketplace.  Although many people don’t consider, or want to consider themselves as salespeople, everyone is a salesperson and therefore needs to understand and utilise the power of selling. For example, it is important to be able to sell your ideas and products to other people but also to sell your capability and skills, particularly in service based industries or when you are applying for a job.

I would also add a fifth skill, which is relevant in today’s digital world; the ability to understand and utilise the power of the Internet, particularly Google, YouTube and social media applications such as LinkedIn, facebook and twitter. Through Google and the Internet you can find virtually any information, knowledge and online learning resources for continuing self-education and personal development. The Internet provides a medium to source ideas and new opportunities that can be applied to different business environments. The Internet is also a network of fluid connections allowing you to connect to other people who may have the knowledge, capability or related interests, to assist you with your business, or who may become your future clients.

Start developing these skills today, that have the potential to make a difference to your future!

Dr John Kapeleris

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If you engage in communication or negotiation with individuals or groups you generally spend about half your time listening. However, studies show that most people are poor listeners, who don’t retain much of what they hear.

Active listening is a communication technique that allows people to become better listeners through understanding, interpreting and evaluating what they hear. Anyone can become an active listener by practicing some basic techniques, as follows:

  1. Prepare in advance. Think about the points you want to make, and plan your conversation strategy and the questions in advance. Planning ahead frees your mind for listening.
  2. Hold your conversation. When you talk you don’t learn anything new. Be more interested in what the other person has to say. Encourage the other person to talk – the more they tell you about their needs or problems the better informed you are to respond or find a solution.
  3. Concentrate. Shut out all distractions. Close your ears to everything except the person to whom you are speaking. Focus on the key points of the discussion and lock them into your mind using memory triggers so that you can respond appropriately to each point. This is the most important component of active listening that always needs more practice and attention.
  4. Don’t interrupt. Hear the speaker out. Pause a second or two before you respond. Don’t be afraid of a moment of silence. It shows that you are thinking about what they said.
  5. Take notes. This will help you remember the important points. However, be selective. Trying to write everything down may cause you to miss important points.
  6. Ask questions. If you don’t understand something or you require further clarification then ask questions. This will also get the other party involved in the conversation. Also ask about their needs, problems and personal interests. People will open up about things that interest them.
  7. Don’t jump to conclusions. Avoid making assumptions about what the speaker is going to say, even if you have heard similar comments and complaints before. Treat every person as a unique individual.
  8. Visualise the person. If speaking to someone on the phone, try to picture the person. It’s easier to become interested in people if you can relate their words to a face.
  9. Use conversation cues. An occasional “Yes”, “I see” or “I understand” shows that you are paying attention and encourages people to keep talking.
  10. Listen between the lines. You can learn a great deal about the people and the central issue by the way they say things or the body language they display. Pay attention to emotions, not just words. Fear, frustration and enthusiasm can be easily detected in a person’s tone of voice, facial expression or body language.
  11. Practice, practice, practice.  Rehearse with family, friends and colleagues. Use everyday conversation as a tool for improving your skills.

The ability to listen actively will improve your communication skills through:

  • a better understanding of the central topic and issues,
  • reduced conflict,
  • improved concentration and memory retention;

thereby fostering better collaboration, and achieving desired outcomes.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Whether we like it or not we are all sales people. On a daily basis we are involved in some way with either selling our capability (ourselves), selling our ideas or selling our point of view. Therefore, one of the key success factors to personal development and career progression is the power of persuasive communication. Persuasive communication is the process of guiding people toward the adoption of an idea, attitude, or action by rational and emotional means.

Most of us have excellent communication skills which is a requirement of our daily work and personal lives. However, the ability to influence people through persuasive communication is a rare attribute that isn’t generally taught in our education system. This skill has to be learnt either through specialised courses, mentors, self-education or on-the-job training. Following is a list of the key elements of persuasive communication:

  1. Establish credibility and rapport
  2. Connect emotionally with your target audience
  3. Communicate the compelling value proposition for the audience
  4. Reinforce your position with compelling evidence and expressive, vivid language

One of my favourite books is Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Green Book of Getting Your Way which focusses on how to speak, write, present, persuade, influence and sell your point of view to others. Jeffrey describes a number of key elements that reflect your persuasive ability:

  1. Explaining what, why and how – people need to better understand your offering by knowing the what, why and how.
  2. Explaining what’s in it for them – people want to see how they win as a result of your persuasion. That is, your compelling value proposition.
  3. Your sincerity – your conviction is part of their acceptance
  4. Your believability – your statements must be true and conceivable
  5. Your questioning skills – persuasion starts with powerful questioning. Don’t tell, ask.
  6. Your communication skills – practice what you will be presenting
  7. Your visionary (storytelling) skills – it’s the stories that people remember. Paint a picture that is clear and vivid.
  8. Your reputation precedes you – an exceptional and honest reputation will lead to a yes
  9. Your history of success – the more wins you have had in the past, the stronger your persuasive strength

Your ability to master each of the elements above will help you to be more persuasive.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Innovation has been identified as the last competitive advantage available to organizations in a turbulent and hyper-competitive global market. Therefore, a number of key drivers are needed to encourage and foster innovation in organizations, including:

1. Strategy for Innovation

A clear and articulated strategy for innovation must be developed and accepted to encourage innovation across the organization. Strategy development first requires an understanding of the business and its environment, and should involve stakeholder input to ensure buy-in across the organization. Innovative companies have a clear vision and core values that encourage the pursuit of organizational objectives, including innovation initiatives.

2. Innovation Leadership throughout the Organization

Commitment and support from top management is the cornerstone of successful innovation. Management influence is necessary to overcome the barriers to successful change, which innovators often encounter. Identifying “champions” in the organization to drive the innovation agenda can make a significant difference to innovation diffusion and adoption. Innovation champions can also provide the leadership required to stimulate innovation throughout the organization. Effective change management will ensure that improvements will be easily implemented. When top management is pro-active and becomes a catalyst for change, the organization has a better opportunity to adopt an innovative culture.

3. Culture and People

Establishing a culture that is conducive to innovation requires building a work environment where trust, open communication and teamwork are the norm. A team is capable of significant achievements because individual abilities can be pooled towards achieving a common objective. The use of cross-functional teams helps break down the barriers by transcending the existing organizational structure. An environment that encourages participation, learning and fun allows new ideas to be generated and improvements implemented. Harnessing the creativity of the workforce forms a critical component of an innovative culture. Therefore, professional development of employees should include skills development in creativity tools and techniques. Other characteristics of an innovative culture include, tolerance of ambiguity, challenging the status quo, asking “Why?” and not being afraid to speak your mind.

4. Tolerance of Risk

The innovation process generally has an element of risk since any change involves uncertainty. Some organizations are risk averse and usually struggle to become innovative. Organizations that incorporate a higher level of risk tolerance in their business processes are more successful in adopting an innovative climate. The downside of risk is failure. However, “failure is not built on success: success is built on failure”. Sagacious or calculated risk taking is therefore the preferred option, because this implies that outcomes, consequences and contingencies have been considered in advance.

5. Open Communication

The existence of free and open communication channels is favourable to innovation because it provides the opportunity for ideas and information to be relayed throughout the organization. It is also important that, in addition to vertical communication, an organization maintains lateral relationships between functional areas to break down any silos. Collaborative information technology solutions, such as Microsoft Sharepoint or Lotus Notes, encourage information sharing throughout the organization and provide a repository for knowledge and ideas.

6. Flexible Operating Structures

Establishing adaptive organizational structures, which are characterized as flat, organic and cross-functional, is a key characteristic of innovative organizations. For example, 3M is a large global company that operates small autonomous cross-functional business units to encourage innovation and participation. In an organic structure job definitions are flexible, and both vertical and lateral communication flows exist. Power and authority are generally shared across team members.

7. New Ideas and Opportunities

The continuous flow and capture of new ideas provides organizations with a source of new products and services, product improvements, and novel processes that contribute to the organization’s survival and growth. Creativity is therefore an important key driver of innovation by providing new ideas and new ways to solve organizational problems. Organizations also need to adopt a formal ideas management process to capture, develop, evaluate, protect and implement ideas and suggestions, which form the foundation of new opportunities that satisfy needs and wants in the market.

If  organizations and their leaders readily embrace the concepts of innovation and successfully implement innovation strategies and processes, they would have made the first steps towards achieving growth and sustainability in the hyper-competitive global arena. Creativity is a skillset that, despite popular belief, can actually be learnt and nurtured within an organization. Senior managers and leaders need to take responsibility to foster an internal culture that recognizes and supports creativity and innovation to ensure they sustain their competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Dr John Kapeleris

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