There should be super stars in every team. People who don’t shirk responsibility when the chips are down, influencers and persuaders, sensitive people with insight, who never seem to lose hope, people with “soft skills”.
You need people who can’t simply be rated on a linear scale, those who deliver on their commitments, who are fully engaged with delivering on the values of the team they play for!
People who keep promises. Either agree and commit or disagree and commit… Who are prepared to be accountable and hold others accountable for doing what they say they will do.
People we love working alongside, who look to catch people doing things right. Who do not complain about things they cannot control. Who focus on what is most important.
Wonderful creatures who actively solicit feedback, because their desire to improve is greater than their desire to defend their position.
And yet we persist in hiring and training as if past industry experience/knowledge is a predictor of future success… As if easily defined skills and qualifications are all that matter.
We can certainly agree that certain key skills are essential
That hiring accountants that can’t account, designers that can’t design, plumbers who can’t plumb, is a short road to failure.
These “vocational” skills seem to have become the backbone of the talent management process.
So how do different organisations with similar vocational skills sets, develop a sustainable competitive advantage?
How do they differentiate themselves? How do they attract the best talent?
Focusing on the apparently essential vocational skills, we overlook the value of skills that really matter, implying that “soft skills” are optional.
What often separates thriving organisations from struggling ones are supposedly less measurable attitudes, behaviours and perceptions of the people who do the work.
Culture defeats strategy, every time. Culture eats strategy for breakfast and so on… (yawn but it’s true)
Organisations primarily focus on measuring the vocational skills, because they can, because they always have and mainly, because it’s safe and it’s not personal, it’s simply business.
We know how to measure the number of sales calls, we have a lot more trouble measuring commitment, team work, or honesty.
We give feedback on vocational skill output daily and save the other stuff for some contemptible annual tick box review process (if at all). A process which is frequently diametrically opposed to the culture we are looking to achieve.
We comfortably hire and fire based on vocational skills
But will require divine intervention or at least board level approval to get rid of a blocker, bully, slacker, or liar if they are good at something vocational. All is forgiven if he/she is perceived at getting the sales results!
If someone in your team made a fraudulent expense claim you’d fire them. If your bookkeeper was embezzling money every month, you’d do the same thing or even have them arrested…
But when somebody demoralises the entire team by emotionally sabotaging an agreed project or initiative, or when they do not pull their weight, or when a bully causes future stars to quit the team – too often, we shrug and point out that this person delivers, or has key vocational skills or is OK really! But they’re still stealing!
What can be taught
It is generally accepted that vocational skills can be taught – you’re not born knowing accountancy, design, or plumbing skills, therefore they must be something we can teach.
We excuse ourselves when it comes to caring, honesty, team working, being coachable and open.
We choose to underinvest in these areas, apparently fearful that these things are innate and can’t be taught.
We call these soft skills and we rarely hire for these attributes
We avoid leading, managing and coaching when these skills are missing or immature, because we are afraid of being accused of getting personal, bullying or being opinionated.
This is crazy as we are not born with these skills, obviously we learn them, I wish I had been taught them at school… along with trigonometry, and quadratic equations. Guess which I use most!
Just because it is difficult to measure does not mean we cannot practice, improve, change
There is not much around that is really worth doing that is easy!
Stop copping out on “soft skills” these are REAL skills
Real skills that amplify vocational skills. Leadership skills that persuade and influence all around you.
Real because they work, because they’re at the heart of what humanity needs today.
Real because even if you’ve got the vocational skills, you’re not much help without human skills, the things that we can’t replace yet with a computer or an app.
Attract talent with all the traditional vocational skills, then add to that all the real skills that your culture, and employer brand values…
A coachable listener who cares, who leads by example, who is honest, who catches people doing things right. What happens when someone like that joins your team?
Are vocational and real, soft skills mutually exclusive? Must we trade one skill set for the other, or even one skill for another?
Is it possible to teach these real skills?
Is it possible to focus on and develop them, hire them, reward for growth? Can we put in place programs, interactions and processes that will lead to progress in developing these areas?
If we did, would it matter?
If we excelled at these real skills could we be more productive, more profitable and could we be a safe more enjoyable place to work?
I am currently working with two clients who have both answered yes… With fabulous outcomes.