I recently had a conversation with an exiting employee that I keep reflecting on. Part of the reason the employee decided to leave was her feeling that she wasn't getting the advancement she expected. She cited many technical skills and accomplishments, which at face value were the start to a compelling case. For the sake of this article, let me put aside any questions about the technical merits of this employee. This is a smart and accomplished individual, capable of amazing technology work, who had been a long time employee with a history of great performance. Yet, I wasn't interested in persuading her to change her mind and stay. Why?
Simply answered, this employee was a bad communicator, an activist against organizational change, and unaware of her social deficiencies, she has low social intelligence (SI). When I brought up the concept that advancement was also premised on the ability and style of interacting with others, she seemed rather stunned and defaulted back to talking about her technical skills again.
Cliff Oxford wrote in his polarizing New York Times article, What Do You Do With a Brilliant Jerk, "The biggest waste of time in a high-growth company is the period that falls between when you know someone does not fit the growth culture and the time you terminate the relationship." Don't get hung up on the phrase "brilliant jerk" in the article title, Cliff's statement applies to anyone that doesn't fit the culture. I also think you can take the growth qualifications out of the statement and it still rings true. If you have an employee who doesn't fit the culture you desire, it is your obligation to coach them or exit them, and do so quickly.
Back to my former employee, she became extremely agitated when talking about her co-workers and her management chain who excelled at social engagements. Her assessment of "non-technical" employees were scathing, and it was very clear she put little value in the customer service aspects of the role she held. In our situation, with a massive effort underway to continuing transforming our business, a technology only focused employee is meeting just half of the expectation. Social skills like empathy, communication, active listening, persuasion, and leadership improve your cognitive abilities and pay dividends to your occupational skills. "Expanded opportunities for social interaction enhances intelligence", writes Raymond H. Hartjen in The Preeminent Intelligence, about Social IQ (SI). I couldn't agree more.
High Social skills + High Occupational skills = Best Employees
Fortunately, we can all improve our social quotient. Dr. Karl Albrecht believes social intelligence can be developed through an effort of learned behavior and an awareness of one's behavior on others. Employees with low Social IQ need to have a willingness to improve, and without that, their technical merits will only carry them so far. My hope is that my former employee reflects on the conversation we had and recognizes the possibilities to be gained by spending time developing her interpersonal skills, without them she's limiting her ability to be the brilliant technologist we know she can be.