Maybe It Does Hinge on the Right Training – (With insight from Lou Adler on “Soft Skills”)

Recently, I was surrounded by about a dozen folks around a table who, in way or another, were tasked with hiring the right folks, and then turning those folks into the employees and the teams that would lead to greater organizational success. 

I started with three questions, which I adapted from the wisdom of a Presbyterian Minister I heard quite a few years ago — he used these questions at a church leadership retreat, obviously for a church setting.  (Clayton Bell, now deceased – then Pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in University Park, Dallas area).  Here is my version, adapted for the non-church arena:

Question #1 – What kind of employee do you need, and want?
Question #2 – What kind of training produces this kind of employee?
Question #3 – What kind of leadership produces this kind of training?

As we talked, we “realized, all over again” that making the right hire, and then providing the right help/leadership, all in order to produce the right results, is one genuinely never-ending challenge.

Sometimes, it’s all about Tone…
Sometimes, it’s all about Work Ethic.
Sometimes, it’s all about Empathy.
Sometimes, you have to get “in their face…”
Sometimes, it’s something else entirely.
And all of this is after making sure that the right “hard skills” skill set is at hand…

Recently, I read this article from Inc.:  Soft Skills Are Hard to Assess. And Even Harder to Succeed Without — People don’t underperform because they lack technical skills. People underperform because they lack soft skills, by Lou Adler.  (Good article:  go read it!).  Here is what Mr. Adler asked “a senior engineering executive at a high-tech Silicon Valley company.”

“Do you consider the following to be soft skills?”

  • Consistently completing high-quality work on time
  • Collaborating with cross-functional groups on major projects that require technical compromises to hit deadlines
  • Making presentations to customers, executives, and other internal teams
  • Persuading others to consider different technical points of view
  • Appreciating the end-user’s perspective from a UX and design standpoint
  • Coaching and being coached on technical and non-technical matters
  • Taking direction from project managers in a matrix environment
  • Working successfully for a variety of managers, each with their own unique style
  • Remaining flexible enough to handle rapidly changing design requirements, yet still hitting deadlines
  • Making tough decisions with limited information and often dealing with ambiguity
  • Challenging conventional wisdom and authority
  • Helping team members who are struggling
  • Taking over without being told a project that’s in trouble
  • Managing multiple projects to a timeline
  • Meeting budget restraints
  • Prioritizing with little direction

And in the article, Mr. Adler added:  “Let’s stop calling them soft skills. The squishiness of this minimizes their importance. Instead, let’s call them non-technical skills.”

Look carefully at this full list of challenging issues.  I think we’ve got some training to do!

And, he may be right.  Maybe we need a new phrase for these, and other “non-technical” skills.  But this much I know.

We want certain outcomes from our employees.
If we are not getting outcomes we need/desire, we’ve got some training revamping to do.
And, it takes leadership to make those changes to our training approaches.

And, yes, I am aware of all the talk about how training has not worked.  But here’s my response:  not true!

I think “no training” does not work!
And, I think this is true:  bad training, the wrong training, does not work. 

As close as I can tell, every accomplished person “learned” (“was trained”) in a multitude of ways.  From good parenting, to formal education, to countless conversations, to mentors and coaches and sponsors, to self-directed learning and skill pursuits — and, of course, formal training programs within organizations… we become more capable based on what we are trained to become — and what we “train” ourselves to become more capable of accomplishing…

We just have to get better at helping others reach that level of expertise and accomplishment to provide greater outcomes.

And, whatever you call them, “soft skills’ are clearly part of the mix…  maybe the most important part of the mix…


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