Soft Skills Are Hard But Crucial

By Helen Battersby


Doing what I do in developing effectiveness in professional it is inevitable that I occasionally come across the term "soft skills" uttered with little-disguised contempt as if they were the latest invention of lily-livered business vegetarians sent to hamper the red-blooded business man or woman in going about his/her business and making a profit.

If the so-called "soft skills" had no impact on performance and the bottom line, I would agree. Businesses have enough red-tape and bureaucracy to contend with. But here's the rub- the acquisition and implementation of these skills are not just a nice-to-have extra to keep HR off your back, they are the skills that maximise your biggest resource and investment- your people; attract and retain your clients; and by achieving these, minimise costs and boost your profits.

What are these skills? How are they central to minimising costs and maximising resources and are you doing enough to cultivate and implement them in your own areas of influence?

In the majority of businesses, people are the most costly and valuable resource. Their productivity - however that is measured- directly affects the bottom line. It therefore follows that how they communicate, how they foster teamwork and achieve engagement, how they filter information to understand what matters, is of paramount importance.

Of course, there is always the short-cut of creating a climate of fear- banging the table, barking orders does get people to stand to attention and can even get short term results. But as we have seen at the highest level in our own political system, these tactics lead to own goals, a focus on the mechanics of relationship rather than what productive relationships serve. These tactics can also lead to the creation of "yes" people, a sabotage culture where the down-trodden leak their bitterness, stress and revenge through covert avenues- and where effort is directed not at productive goals but at in-fighting and destructive outcomes.

I contend that for long term, healthy, productive organisations- soft skills- knowing how and when and with whom to communicate; knowing how to consciously align behaviour with desired outcomes are not only key- they are indispensable. Dismiss their importance and you may find you leak talent to other organisations that don't pay lip service to these competencies!

In his book "The new Leaders (transforming the art of leadership into the science of results" Goleman writes "Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the workplace sets the best leaders apart from the rest- not just in tangibles such as better business results and the retention of talent, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation and commitment." I would argue that high competence in the intangibles leads inexorably to sustainable results in the tangibles.

Helen Battersby
Good to Great Coaching Limited

Helen is an executive coach with a business background working for an international company in senior managerial roles including MD of a UK branch and CEO of a pan-european group of companies. She combines her experience and talents as a coach to help her clients define and achieve high performance.

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