Hard Truth About Soft-Skills

Dr. Purushothaman
December 7, 2013

There are 350,000 opinions (books) on "leadership" on Amazon. Corporate America can't seem to draw a consensus on what leadership is so it's really no big surprise that Corporate America can't figure out what soft-skills are and why they are important either. You know, for being such a dominating force in the world of business, we really don't have a clue about the stuff that REALLY makes business run. You know, the people part of it?

If you think communication and presentation, leadership and management, human resources, sales and marketing, professional development, project and time management, customer service, administration, accounting and finance and purchasing are soft-skills, then you really don't have any idea of why you are not the best in your market do you? Every one of these is a specific job or function and are therefore either a technical skill or a performance skill.

Imagine telling the Human Resources director that they have no real technical expertise because HR is not technical. Imagine telling the VP of Customer Service that her entire department is unnecessary because it's not a performance skill. The same goes for accounting, finance and purchasing. But there are some training companies that would have you believe that sales or finance or management are training not necessary for the successful function of an organization. They sell this type of training as soft-skills.

Wikipedia defines soft-skills as "a sociological term relating to a person's "EQ" (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement hard skills (part of a person's IQ), which are the technical requirements of a job and many other activities."

Here's the best way to put it. If it's a skill you need to perform your job, it's a technical or a performance skill. If it's something that makes you a better person, it's a soft-skill.

Let me illustrate: two job candidates sit in your office with exactly the same technical skill-set. Who do you choose? You choose the candidate with the better friendliness, confidence or optimism. It's exactly the same way your customers choose to do business with a particular sales person, or why some companies offer better service, or why some companies have better management. Given that the product is equal, the choice comes down to which personality you would prefer to work with. Your choice is based on personality and attitude and not on their technical prowess.

Soft skills are personal skills: skills that make better people which should, in turn, make better functioning employees. Make people better able to accept learning and criticism and direction - then teach them the technical aspects of the job. Screening or training for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment for an organization. For this reason, this type of training are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications.

Time-Management is not a soft-skill. It is a performance skill. Sales training is not a soft-skill. It is a technical skill. Time-Management doesn't work without self discipline: a soft-skill and Sales training doesn't work without self-confidence: a soft-skill.

If you want to improve the corporate culture of your organization, you can not do it without addressing attitudes and soft-skills. Asking your people to have their personal values line up with the corporate values is all attitudes and soft-skills. Corporate Social responsibility is based on attitudes and soft-skills. Environmental stewardship is based on attitudes and soft-skills. Collaboration within the organization is based on attitudes and soft-skills. Diversity and creativity are based on attitudes and soft-skills. Good corporate citizenry is the result of community-based attitudes and soft-skills.

Is soft-skills training good for business? The Attitudes and soft-skills of your organization are the difference between mediocrity and greatness. The great thing is that you get to choose whether your organization is just average or whether it achieves greatness. Oh, and by the way, greatness is a soft-skill.

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