Are Soft Skills Over-rated?

Core Values
Attrib: D. Dominici FDP

Today, we are seeing a tremendous amount being written and taught on Soft Skills in the business and social arena. Many are saying this topic is over rated and just a buzz word. but I beg to differ. Many of our communications problems today find their root in incivility, rudeness and lack of respect. By the way all are soft skills! It is one of those ailments that has happened over a period of time, without many really realizing the impact. It is also being ignored by many leaders in the marketplace.

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Soft Skills, Manners, Etiquette in 2015, Part 1

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Over the last two weeks we have been discussing “Soft Skills” on our weekly Lunch & Learn Call” and one of the first items we discussed was manners, etiquette, courtesy, rudeness, or whatever you want to call the process of “bad manners”. It seems that as we have moved from a formal business environment to a “business” casual environment, we have crossed a few lines that have resulted in a breakdown in communications, connection and engagement. Manners is one of those lines and I include them in the category of interpersonal communications in the workplace.

Brief Overview:

In a 2012, an academic exercise that was done by a group of students, from Eastern Kentucky University, where they conducted interviews of 57 executives who responded to a questionnaire that asked them to list and rank the attributes of soft skills they felt were critical for operations. They were to rank them by selecting 5 = extremely important, 4 = Somewhat important, 3 = somewhat important 2= not very important or 1 = not important.

All 57 of the executives agreed that Integrity and Communications were very important or extremely important. 84.2% of the respondents indicated that “courtesy” was an extremely important skill. I believe it is time that we begin to address this issue because in can have a very positive effect on business when applied correctly. Based on this we can assume “soft skills” is a major topic on Mahogany Row or at least it should be one.

Business leaders consider soft skills to be a major desirable attribute in applicants coming into the market place today. This study found that the top 10 soft skills ranked by the participants as most important were: Integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, professionalism, flexibility, teamwork and work ethic. Today we are focusing on only one of these, that of courtesy.

The term “soft skills” has been around in business and academic environment for years but little attention has been paid to it until recently. Generally, when we talk about skills we focus on “hard skills” or those abilities, knowledge, practice or aptitude to do something well. We also refer to a job, trade or job requiring manual dexterity as being hard skills.

The Collins English Dictionary defines the term soft skills as: “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge; they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”

“Soft skills” are really referring to character traits, qualities, attitudes, or behaviors that are desirable for a specific business, company or enterprise. Soft skills are continually developed during our work life and they are also transportable between organizations. They are also considered to be intangible, non-technical, personality traits that contribute to one’s strengths in an organization. The top attributes on every recruiters desired list today will be a soft skills, usually one or many of the top ten mentioned above.

For those who like to think in terms of formulaic methodologies, the team at Eastern Kentucky University came up with this:

Soft Skills = Interpersonal (People) Skills + Personal (Career) Attributes

Simple formula, but does provide the idea that Soft Skills are more than people skills, contrary to many theories today.

To add to the confusion with courtesy, manners, etc. we have become more casual in our relationships, personal and work. We often limit the performance of manners in favor of short, staccato interactions. Technology continues to have a major impact on relationships with remote working, global collaboration and objectification of measurements.

Mutual respect for each other seems to have come to an all-time low, in many arenas, regardless of title, race or ethnicity. In meetings, many people feel that they must dominate the conversation to make a point, there is little to no compromise.

If your organization is inundated with bad manners, fractured respect, or argumentative attitudes then change is the only way to ensure survival and growth. Keep in mind this should not be a mandated change. If you try to force good manners, it may work for a while but it will eventually create another drop in employee engagement.

To affect a change in rudimentary attitudes it must not only be defined by leadership but also lived and demonstrated by leadership. “Do as I say, not as I do” will fail every time in this 21st century business environment.

If you are not sure where to begin but you know you want to have some assistance, please check out our website at Transformative Leadership Group or call me at 630-454-4821. Our frameworks can help you sort it out.

If you would like to join our call on Thursdays from 11:30am to 12:30pm CDT just register at Eventbrite. Each meeting is freestanding so if you want to attend all the remaining please register for each one independently.

Next week we will post some suggested starting points for affecting change in manners, respect, etiquette and communications within your company.

Engagement to Innovate

Making surveys workLast week we discussed eight suggestions that could put vitality into your company through innovation. These ideas really focused on the triggers for empowering innovative thought and action so today I want to take this a bit deeper. To really leverage those ideas your people need to be engaged and we know what the data tells on this today. Therefore, this is a brief list of ideas that can be used to improve engagement.

We continue to talk about this vital topic called “Employee Engagement” however based on various surveys, only 22% of companies really have an effective plan in place and working. There seems to be a lot of planning but I fear we are dealing with analysis paralysis. We keep trying to find a silver bullet that we can buy and install to make the program go away but I hate to bust that bubble, there are no silver bullets, pills or other shortcuts to make people engaged.

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6 Building Blocks for Employee Engagement

Core Values
Attrib: D. Dominici FDP

A high level of employee engagement in an organization is linked to excellent business performance, including increased profitability, productivity, employee retention, customer satisfaction and safety levels. Senior leaders often discuss the need for all of the results but find it difficult to find the path to effective engagement.

I am sure that we all believe we must find a way in which all employees are engaged at work, right? But how can we actually get there? Here are 6 basic stepping stones to start your journey. While the may seem simplistic they are not that easy to execute because too often pride, selfishness or mis-information create stumbling blocks.

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Surveys, Still Valuable to Your Business?

Making surveys workAre surveys still valuable in your business? I have been asking myself this question for the last six months to a year. The sad problem is that I answer myself with the paradoxical “Yes” and “No”.

On the telephone, in the mail, on our computers, smartphones and iPads, American consumers and businesses are being solicited as never before to express their feelings about products and services ranging from meals in fast food restaurants to the latest consulting engagement you presented to a client.

I suspect in some circles there is a remnant of “survey rage”, similar to road rage, where people are contemplating the most absurd answers to the questions the next pollster or online survey they feel they are entrapped into taking.

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Leadership is About Alignment!

Core Values and Alignment
Attrib: D. Dominici FDP

Much is being written and even more is being discussed today around the topic of leadership. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion and defensive posturing that takes place in the business world. Often, when the topic of leadership is talked about, there is much rhetoric and boasting but there seems to be little accomplishment. Almost everyone recognizes the need for leadership but only few can really define and execute it well.

I want to challenge this confusion because we often overlook value alignment, which is critical for all leadership roles. So often we spend so much time delving into the process and forget the basics.

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Behold the Remarkable Leader!

Kromkrathog FDP 2014
Kromkrathog FDP 2014

In her 2011 book, “Behind the Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss”, Karol Wasylyshyn advanced the idea that leadership could be seen as a continuum that ranged from Toxic, to Perilous and then Remarkable.

The book was the result of work that she did with Rohm & Haas Chemicals in the 80’s and the development of a program titled Leadership 3000 which continues today. It was a holistic approach to developing executive talent by focusing equally on classic leadership competencies and leader behaviors. The former included topics such as strategic thinking, driving results and managing people whereas the latter touched on emotional fortitude, courage and a bias for action. You can find out more of this actual data by going to http://www.karolwasylyshyn.com/pdf/developing_leaders.pdf.

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10 Simple Ideas to Mitigate Stress & Anxiety at Work

Team with puzzle
Courtesy of R. Krishnan / Freedigitialphots.net

Work related stress can be defined as: the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them.” This adverse reaction can and does take its toll on our health, our productivity and general health of the workforce. We may think it only happens here in the US but it is taking place in many industrialized countries around the world. You can see a broader definition at the World Health Organizations website.

But a certain amount, of stress or pressure is actually healthy, it keeps us on our toes and drives us to achieve. In essence, pressure can cause us to lead more fulfilling lives. The difficulty, however, is how do we create a healthy balance of stress because too much stress and anxiety is certainly harmful to your health and well-being? What techniques can we apply to encourage stress and anxiety relief in our lives? Stay with me for a short while and we’ll look at 10 simple ideas to deal with stress and anxiety relief at work. Keep in mind these should be fun, not just another task to add to your already full calendar.

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Check Your Ego at the Door – Revisited

Courtesy of digitalart and FreeDigitalPhotos.
Courtesy of digitalart and FreeDigitalPhotos.

“We Are The World”, in 1985 we listened to this song and thought we were on the edge of solving the problem of hunger in Africa, yet here we are 30 years later and we still struggle with the same issues.  The goal of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie was to awaken the inner person to the benefit of others for a telethon but it reached more just that, I remember people of all classes, cultures and languages embracing the thought. Egos were checked at the door.  It was a time of vision and ideals right?  There were glimmers of hope that things could be better.

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2015 Challenge: Ideas for Engaging Employees

Thanks to Stuart Miles & FDP
Thanks to Stuart Miles & FDP

How can we, as leaders, engage employees’ heads, hearts, and hands? Much has been written on the subject of engaging employees  however in this article I will endeavor to highlight a number of areas were leaders should strive for excellence in dealing with their people. These will yield engagement.

1. Always Connect: Leaders must demonstrate that they value employees. In the book, “First, Break All the Rules”, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that leader or manager influence usually trumps companies. While company driven programs such as profit sharing and implementing work–life balance initiatives are important, there is much more to the equation. If, for example, the employees’ relationship with their managers is fractured, then no amount of benefits or incentives will persuade them to perform at top levels.

Employee engagement is generally a direct reflection of how employees feel about their relationship with the boss. They look at whether organizations and their leaders walk the talk when they proclaim that, “Our employees are our most valuable asset.” If employees feel that leaders do not believe in this mantra then high levels of disengagement will occur. While they may not flip entirely to disengaged, they may fall in to a middle group that is neither fully engaged nor fully disengaged. They will get the job done adequately but they will fall short of being company advocates for growth and innovation. There is always room for improvement when it comes to engaging employees.

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