I read an article on the BBC the other day that made me thoughtful ‘Campaign puts £88bn economic value on ‘soft skills’.
The opening line pretty much sums up the thrust of the piece. Skills such as communication, initiative, interacting with customers and team working need to be taken much more seriously as factors for business success. It prompted me to make a few subjective reflections. These are based purely on my experience and impressions so you are very welcome to disagree with them!
1. There are many organisations that do recognise the financial benefits to be gained by paying attention to their culture and engagement, and we have great fun working with them. We do a lot of work in this space with the financial sector. Initially I found this counter intuitive – businesses that I perceive to be dedicated to money often pay the greatest importance to their people. Of course, it is not counter intuitive at all – they simply recognise that when you pay attention to your people, you are paying attention to the bottom line. That is the point. And they are prepared to show leadership by making an investment in the absence of the cast iron measurable proof that others need (and is often so hard to provide).
2. Who says we have to call them ‘soft’ skills? My experience is that many people find them more challenging than the technical elements of their job. There is no manual that tells you how to respond to the infinitely diverse individuals and situations that arise. And as authenticity lies at the heart of great communication and engagement, we will all have a different response that’s right for us – we can’t simply copy the role model template. Perhaps they should be called ‘hard skills’ and that might get more peoples’ attention.
3. ‘No amount of “soft skills” will help anyone wire a plug, or do anything practical.’ The comments that follow the article are in part insightful, part entertaining and part depressing! Perhaps that is true of any internet commentary. One common position seems to be that we have to choose ‘either, or’. For example – ‘Would you rather have a doctor that got the diagnosis right and was rude or a doctor that smiled politely and got it wrong?’ Surely it is not a choice – we can have both? And won’t a doctor that can engage well with a patient be far more likely to draw out the insight required to make the right diagnosis?
So to leave you with a different option from the ‘either / or’ debate: How will your customers, employees and shareholders benefit when your investment in your people capabilities enhances your investment in your technical skills?