"We hire for hard skills, we fire for soft skills." Rick Stephens, Senior Vice President of HR at Boeing Corporation.
As a leader of a business, of yourself and of your people, you understand that necessary qualities to success and a sustainable enterprise include self-belief, confidence, self-motivation and accountability. So when you look at the skills you need in your organisation, it is not enough to only consider the quantifiable, tangible and teachable skills required for the job. What is needed is the knowledge that the person doing that job to has the ability to deliver what you need, that they can solve problems, think innovatively, communicate well, engage, collaborate, adapt, flex, persevere, have the right work ethic and be the right fit for your business.
We are talking about essential Soft Skills.
Why do you need these Soft Skills?
1. They back up your hard skills - you need the knowledge, the ability, the techniques and expertise to fit the job, and you also need the soft skills to properly do the job. Without great interpersonal skills a sales person could provide all the information in the world but not be able to close the deal.
2. Customers like soft skills. We are in an age of social media, everything is easily accessible, there are so many avenues to buy, convenience and price competitiveness are offered by all, so that critical ability to engage with customers on a higher level can be the difference that gains and retains customers.
3. It makes for a better workplace - people like people who have good interpersonal skills. A workplace based on acute competition, disengagement, friction, intransigence, closed minds - that isn't healthy, won't be productive and really won't be a very nice place to be.
4. It is the future of the way we work. Automation and technological advances mean that there will be less need for technical ability and more need for soft skills. Being able to continually develop, improve and innovate are essential in the future workplace.
What should you be doing now?
Firstly, do an audit of what your organisation needs from its people. Start with your Value Proposition (if you don' t have one, now is the time to make one). Working from this identify the following:
1. What are the company values that everyone should be expounding and exemplifying?
2. What are the 5 essential soft skills you want your people to have?
3. Identify the gaps - who does not have what?
Secondly, create your Soft Skills Development Strategy, noting what you need where and for whom and what the options are e.g. skills training, workshops, mentoring, buddying (to name just a few). Think about the budget, think about the challenges. You may have the right person in the wrong position, you may need to consider delegation, different task allocations, outsourcing, you may even need to replace some people. Developing your Strategy is not something to do lightly, it needs time and consideration and you may need to seek some help.
Thirdly, create the time plan to implement this Strategy. This is about the sustainability of your business, so your time plan needs to be ongoing, have set review times and benchmarks.
And finally, some tips
Soft Skills can be challenging to develop in your people as everyone is different. So play to strengths - don't try to make a sales person out of someone who is clearly better at and more comfortable with working on their own and dealing with data.
You may think someone has the skills to be promoted but that might just not be what they want, so they won't perform the way you want them to in that more senior position.
Consider doing some profiling, for yourself and for your people, to help you understand their strengths and preferences and be able to use these in their soft skills development. (If this looks interesting ask about our SCT Profiling tool).
Finally, here is a bit of a cheat sheet of the type of skills you might need to be looking for:
1. Adaptability, organisational ability
2. Good interpersonal skills - smiling is great!
3. The ability to take criticism and use it constructively
4. A positive, motivated attitude and an eagerness to learn
5. Being innovative and creative, exploring options, looking for solutions to solve problems
6. A willingness to share, collaborate, add to the pot of knowledge and ability for the greater gain
7. An ability to work under pressure, to deadlines, on your own initiative but also, importantly, knowing when to, and being comfortable with asking for help
8. Having leadership qualities - this doesn't mean everyone is a leader, it is more about being able to show fortitude, make good choices, negotiate, engage. It is a biggy, and really needs a whole page of its own, but suffice to say here, it is important.
So there we have it - and by way of confirmation of how important Soft Skills are, below are some statistics from the Backing Soft Skills Report *:
By 2020, more than 535,000 UK workers will be significantly held back by a lack of soft skills – an issue forecast to affect all sectors.
By 2020, soft skills will contribute £109 billion per annum to the UK economy – an increase of £21 billion more than in 2015.
97% of UK employers believe soft skills are important to their current business success, and over 50% say skills like communication and teamwork are more important than traditional academic results.
However, 75% believe there is already a soft skills gap in the UK workforce.
UK employees say they struggle to sell their soft skills. 1 in 5 would not feel confident describing their soft skills to an employer and more than half (54%) have never included soft skills on their CV.
* The Value of Soft Skills to the UK Econony report prepared by Development Economics Ltd 2015 and data from YouGov plc 2014