Soft skills are foundational competencies

Aaron Chua at Wild Illusions sees financial measurements as no longer able to tell the complete story. He mentions various other areas for measurement, including “talent development” but in a different context from the tired “talent management” perspective we’ve heard for several years:

This means a total redefinition of what talent development means in organisations. The first implication is of course to throw out the idea of having a talent development unit. Instead, we need to think about ways to rebuilt how talent is truly developed via connections to the resources at the edge, connections to different organisational competencies that plugs their gaps, connections that increases cognitive diversity and brings about unexpected learnings et al. All these are rich areas for a new breed of talent development companies to think about and to create new products/services upon.

If you buy into Richard Florida’s concept of the Creative Class (which I mostly do) then it becomes obvious that for organizations to succeed they will have to nurture creativity in their workforce. Creative people are at all levels, including the janitor, and are not ‘human resources’ but individuals who have the capability of  gaining wisdom. From the Creative Class Blog is an article on The Workplace in a Wiki World, with this idea about the changing emphasis for workers:

Therefore, for an individual to succeed in a wiki-corporation or wiki-organization it will increasingly require being more than an engineer, programmer, economist, or accountant. It will also require the “soft skills” to do media relations or “wiki” relations, interacting daily with a range of customers and outside contributors, as well as collaborating with others in the company.

Here’s my speculation on workplace learning in ten years.

Soft skills, especially collaboration and networking, will become more important than hard skills. Smart employers have always focused more on attitude than any specific skill-set because they know they can train for a lack of skills and knowledge. The soft skills require time, mentoring, informal learning and other environmental supports. Once you have the soft skills to perform in a networked workplace, you’ll have foundational competencies.

I think many people will say of course we’ve known this all along, but in a workplace where our networks are as important as our skills, it will be more difficult to hide the fact that you’re a highly skilled jerk.

21 Responses to “Soft skills are foundational competencies”

  1. Jacques Cool

    That last line is great! 😉

    Maybe it’s time to re-write/re-think the expression “jack of all trades, master of none” into something like “networked in my workplace, foundationally competent in many trades”.

  2. David Wilkins

    I love the ideas in this post Harold. Another thought along these lines: shifting power balances from men to women in the corporate world. If companies are really going to be run like communities (similar to the way Best Buy and Cisco are going), and if women have better foundational social skills on average than men, then maybe we’ll see a reversal in the gender balance in management roles. Maybe a crazy thought, but a lot of research both recent and historical has shown that women, on average, are much better at stuff like empathy, socially networking, listening, discussion, sharing, asking for help… in other words, a lot of stuff that will make people successful in a community-driven workplace. So maybe they will have a bit of a leg up in this transition to a community-run workplace…

  3. Blake Browning

    Personally, I think having a skill set that is generalized is more appropriate for today’s world. Seeing how businesses are failing left a right, having many skills can be very beneficient to someone trying to recover from a lost position.

  4. Huong N

    I totally agree with Harold, especially with the workplace. Even though an individual is an expert at their particular field of work, they still need to capture the soft skills to master their job. For example, you can go into thhe bank to make a deposit or for questions about your account, the bank teller could have done exactly what you wanted them to do but if their attitude is bad you would still not like the experience.

  5. Obsa Aba-waji

    I agree with Harold on this one. Soft skills are very important . I believe that is the way our business is going now. They need people who are able to do multiple skills, instead of being an expert one just one.

  6. Nataya Cowart

    I want to piggy back off Obsa. Soft skills are very vital and becoming mandatory to start and keep any profession. You can develop new skills but you can develop a new personality.

  7. Barbara Gant

    In ten years of customer service and even starting a business. I can truly say that from the most powerful of companies to the mom and pop, soft skills are essential. As a matter of fact, a company experiences death by asphyxiation (maybe not as fast when powered by influential stockholders and the like) on its own “great product” and mission statement. Maybe we think the “Wal-Mart” experience and the McDonald experience is not the best these days, but places like Chik-fil-A are knockin’ ’em down with “My pleasure”- forcing other major companies to give a little more thought to the slowly dying ideal of customer service.

  8. Lilah Weaver

    I’m glad to see that customer service skills are being viewed as important again. Customer service is indeed a skill, and if done well, could mean the difference between a thriving business and a slow one.

  9. Taylor Matthews

    Harold you make excellent points in this blog. Soft skills have become essential for most workplace situations. If you can’t interact with others in a smooth manner because of your personality, then you will have several problems with your coworkers as well as the customers.

  10. Nisha Patel

    Customer service is so important! Many companies who have not shown good customer service skills, were hurting financially because the people want to be taken care of and want their needs to be a priority. I personally don’t shop at certain stores just because the staff isn’t very friendly vs. a store whose staff is very welcoming.

  11. KaTrina Harrison

    I love this post because it speaks accurately about the future. I believe that the world is moving into a different direction as far as jobs are concerned. The competition is crazy. Too many college students live in a world where they believe that all they have to do is get a degree and money will fall into their laps from there. It’s amazing how naive my generation is. People are losing their jobs left and right. I personally believe that developing those soft skills will get you ahead of the competition.

  12. Joshua Naterman

    That’s a well written article, but I find myself agreeing with your last sentence. When has there ever been a time when people skills weren’t the most important tool in your toolkit?

    People tend to get hired, and certainly often get promoted, based on who they know and how well they are able to identify and play the game that the people making those promotion decisions want them to play.

    I’ve seen this process at work in the military, in school and in the working world and it amazes me that we haven’t gotten to the point where we demand that our educational system teach our children the skills that we all realize they are going to need. What good is all this knowledge when we aren’t teaching our future generations how to actually function in the working world? The soft skills, as they say, have been and most certainly will continue to be the most important skills for as long as people make emotional decisions. Shouldn’t we be expecting our educational system to help provide these essential skills?

  13. ashley asigbey

    I think that everyone knows “soft skills” are important, perhaps more important than technical skills, but because they are difficult to cultivate, measure, etc. we tend to avoid discussing them.
    Establishing a new term to describe these skills could be helpful as well. “Soft skills” sounds like an intangible, marginalized set of concepts. However, naming the actual skills (trust, confidence, etc.) tend to resonate much better and are perceived as valuable traits. Perhaps interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are better “umbrella” terms…

  14. tiffany fareed

    I personally feels that everyone has a unique skill. Everyone has skills that can be categorized into small or large groups. The soft skills which are seemed to be the important ones are mastered by plenty of humans. Essential skills are the ones that help people think outside of the box and try to differentiated one human from another. But i truly believe that the soft skills we learn everyday are the ones that are important and help us keep our heads about water.

  15. Tifny Jo Kimble

    I completely agree with soft skills being the back bone in helping to make a business successful. I have worked at a lot of different companies over the years, and I am a firm believer that hard skills can be taught and mastered over time, but when it comes to knowing or using soft skills, you either have it or you don’t.

    I used to be a flight attendant and one thing that I learned is that customers will become unhappy at some point and you can make it harder on yourself or easier just by listening and making them feel like their issues actually matter. A positive attitude can turn a bad situation into a good one. Customer service is the key. If you try to always do the right thing for the customer, that could make a huge impact in the financial success of your company. I think this is a very good quote to sum things up, “soft skills complement hard skills ” (Wikipedia).

  16. Josephine Mwaura

    I completely agree. I also believe that a balance of each, technical and soft skills, is quite useful. The only difference is that technical skills can easily be learned faster than the soft skills, because the soft skills are learned over time.


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