Company leaders have always known it, but recent research has confirmed that interpersonal skills are effectively linked to managerial job performance. The TRACOM Group recently polled 127 managers in one division of an international publishing company for their Managerial Success Study, then compared the managers’ scores in different areas of job performance with versatility scores. Versatility is a concept related to emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence? Dr. Casey Mulqueen, director of research at the TRACOM Group said the answer depends on who you ask. “In general, it breaks down into four categories: self-awareness, social awareness, self-control and emotional awareness. Most of the competencies that are measured under those four categories are all related to interpersonal skills. It begins with a good understanding of yourself and how you interact with and relate to other people. From there, you begin to pay attention to how other people interact with you and how you can impact those relationships. That’s the social awareness part of the model. In TRACOM we have a model that’s very similar; we call it ‘Know yourself, control yourself, know others and do something for others,’ and that’s been part of our model since the 1950s.”
Versatility has four parts: image, presentation, competence and feedback. These combined pieces detail a person’s ability to work well with others and interact effectively not only to get what he or she needs, but to help others achieve their goals at the same time. It can involve personal preferences for behavior, as well as how a person chooses to work, which research shows can affect success in various managerial capacities as well as overall performance.
“If you think of them in relation to how you meet a person, image is really a first impression,” Mulqueen explained. “It’s whether or not you are appropriate to the situation. For example, if you go into a meeting with a new client and you’re dressed casually, but this new client and all his representatives are dressed very formally, you would be perceived as being out of place. Presentation is how you speak and how you present yourself, particularly in front of groups of people. You see somebody, at first impression you see their image. Then you see how they actually speak and discuss topics with you. Competence is how well you do your work, how versatile you are, how creative you can be, your perseverance in getting jobs or tasks done. Feedback is your interpersonal skills on a one-on-one basis.”
Over time, anyone can overcome their own image problems if they are competent, present well and give good feedback—and doing so is a good idea. TRACOM gathered compensation data for each of the study participants and found that managers with higher-level versatility earned an average of 29 percent more than managers categorized with low versatility. Analysis of job performance for this population also included ratings on 47 performance factors, such as ability to effectively coach others, establish effective relationships with direct reports and positively impact the commitment of direct reports.
“One of the things that we intentionally did in the survey is put in a pretty long list of managerial competencies,” Mulqueen said “Some organizations are more interested in retention-oriented things. Others are more interested in leadership-oriented processes and activities among their managers, so we can slice the data and look at what are the things that your organization cares about? What are the strategic imperatives you are facing based on your competitive set, your marketplace, etc., and we show how versatility relates to that.”
Four important findings emerged from the study. “We wanted to see if versatility was related to managerial effectiveness, and we did find that the higher people, as they increase their versatility, they also increase their scores on all 47 of the performance measures that we gathered from their direct reports and supervisors. The second thing we wanted to see was whether or not there was really a meaningful performance difference between managers with high versatility and managers with low versatility, and we found that to be the case. For instance, we looked at one measure called overall effectiveness as a team leader, and we found that managers with high versatility were rated 27 percent higher than managers with low versatility. The third finding was with the compensation figures, a difference of $30,000 between low-versatility and high-versatility managers. The fourth finding was almost an afterthought after we found all these results. We wanted to see whether or not you could actually predict someone’s overall job performance using versatility as a statistical, methodological way to do that. And we found that versatility can predict 15 percent of a manager’s overall job performance,” Mulqueen said.
Fifteen percent may not immediately register as particularly impressive, but Mulqueen said that organizations often use selection instruments such as personality inventories or cognitive ability tests to select candidates for jobs. “Those are really IQ tests. These things tend to predict right around the same percentage of a person’s job performance, usually around 20 percent. We found that versatility is actually comparable to all these other predictors,” Mulqueen said. “You get somebody who comes into position as a manager, they might have all the technical skills they need, but the versatility is really the tipping point to make them a very effective manager.”
Mulqueen also said that one of the 47 performance measures, the ability to positively impact the commitment of direct reports to the organization, is an important predictor of retention since it deals with people’s intentions to stay with their organizations, as well as their job performance. “High-versatility managers can really impact the commitment of their direct reports. If you look at these as a group, what you’re looking at is a managers’ ability to impact not only their direct reports, but the organization as a whole. They impact their direct reports because the direct reports are saying, ‘This is a person that I really enjoy working with. This is a person who motivates me.’ Those are indicators of a person’s willingness to stay with the company and put forth additional effort on behalf of the company. They’re doing that because they work for somebody that they have a good relationship with.”