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So What About Those Soft Skills?

January 6th 2016


Having spent a memorable festive season in Australia with some dear friends I wanted to relate my experience to this glorious profession for like it or not we shape values and actions, directly or indirectly. Whilst in Sydney I was fortunate to be taken for a tour of a newly developed and fully functional   world-class not-for-profit integrated cancer treatment centre, and now a fully operational cancer hospital through the introduction of inpatient services. A truly impressive facility I was able to witness first hand the tremendous care and respect being provided to those less fortunate than ourselves. 

Whilst not privy to the level of funding that was able to bring this world class facility to its fruition, I am aware of the contribution made by our host for he brought together industry leading specialists to partake in and deliver on the capital raising, in addition to the seamless construction of this impressive project. For his continued service to a range of charitable organizations he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.

We first met when we were retained to secure for his thriving business a General Manager. During this engagement and many that followed I discovered him to be a shrewd, highly competitive, focused and tough business person. So what's new you might say? As our journey crossed from that of a business relationship to that of friendship I have witnessed countless examples of his tremendous generosity coupled with his indefatigable will to share with and guide others less fortunate. A mentor, you bet.

Now to the thrust of this message. For the past 20 years I have really enjoyed partnering with outstanding industry leaders and have thankfully interacted with 000's of terrific executives along the way. As a result, my journey is a richly woven tapestry. Contemplating those splendid 340+ assignments (at the time of writing) that has taken me to all corners of this planet I offer readers a fresh insight into those qualities that organizations seek when appointing new talent. Generally speaking the KPI's and key selection criteria have related to hard skills and outcomes. I am rarely asked to consider executives that possess an abundance of relational soft skills such as EQ, creative listening, empathic leadership, communication skills, ability to influence and humility just to mention a few.

Generally speaking soft skills are not learned but acquired "on the job" through past failures and success. The now famous study by Google in 2009 code-named Project Oxygen began by analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints. Later that year the "people analytics" teams produced what might be called the Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers. Following on they ranked these eight habits by importance and found that technical expertise was rated last. Much more important was "making the connection and being accessible" to their employees.

Just recently I was able to engage with a Hiring Director of a high profile management consultancy. As is usually the case our conversation flowed from subject to subject and turned to the hiring and retention of Generation Y's. Not surprisingly she confirmed there existed no coaching programme to best equip their leadership on how best to lead, engage, manage, motivate or coach. When you consider the tremendous impact this tech-savvy, cost effective team orientated group can make it is no surprise that the "smart' employers are embracing their potential and creating cultural programmes to foster and retain for the longer term.

This comes down to the identification of a host of soft skills when hiring and developing our future leaders. Organizations need to embrace this shift in hiring priority otherwise effective employee engagement and retention will become a burden and organizational wide problem. Just to reinforce my point I recall with great affection the contribution that two of my clients have made in developing their Australia wide teams. In all cases they hired with consensus in mind and consistently made themselves available no matter the magnitude of the issue. Employee retention was never a problem.  








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