Soft Skills that Make a Hard Impact

I closed the last post by bringing up one of the biggest challenges I’ve seen organization’s struggle with in determining whether or not they make an investment into the new skills someone will need as they transition into a role with leadership responsibility. When we’re intentional about accurately defining leadership development, we can begin to identify specific areas that need to be addressed in our growing team members. This is also where we should be establishing baseline measurements for a few key metrics that tie directly back to effective leadership - in the lack thereof…

Over the last twenty years, the most common push-back I’ve seen to making an investment in providing the necessary training and development that can be so critical in helping new supervisors and managers lead their teams effectively has been the concern of not knowing if it makes any difference at all. In so many cases, those soft skills are viewed as intangible and providing tools for developing only makes it to the front burner when things are slow or there’s been some sort of crap storm and something just has to be done…

First off, I’ve never seen things get that slow. To that end, when things do get slow, those same organizations almost always eliminate all spending on everything that’s not absolutely critical to production. (I’ll circle back to how critical soft skills are to production shortly…) And with regards to cleaning up the crap storm, that’s kinda like going after a fire extinguisher after the building has burned to the ground.

I’d be hard pressed to name more than just a handful of the supervisors and managers that I’ve ever known who haven’t placed far more emphasis on developing their team members’ technical skills than they ever did on what they considered to be soft skills. I take no issue whatsoever with that when it comes to the folks who typically work alone. But even the ones who work as part of a team have to be able to work with one another effectively. The key in defining leadership development really lies in identifying the soft skills that make a hard impact!

As we looked at the question Why is leadership development important?, I shared some stats from different studies showing the true costs that can be directly attributed to kicking the soft skill training can down the road. Based on what those studies showed, a company with around 100 employees typically saw costs of nearly $1 million between just average turnover and average productivity losses. And those were tied right back to poor communication, a soft skill that’s nearly always considered intangible and hard to measure!

While I doubt those numbers will be exactly the same for your organization, I’m fairly certain the costs are significantly higher than you think they are since so few companies ever track any of the indirect costs that are tougher to nail down… And you may actually have issues other than turnover and lost productivity that drive the costs even higher. Regardless of where those numbers currently are, the first step in defining leadership development so that it provides a measurable return on investment is taking inventory of where you are right now; what’s your annual turnover rate? What’s your current productivity percentage? Depending on the industry, productivity may be a measure of indirect vs direct labor, billable hours vs non-billable hours, or a look at revenue vs expenses. However you measure it, figure out where you are right now so you have something to compare as you begin working to make that hard impact.

More often than not, the gaps you discover in defining what leadership development is needed don’t require a fancy approach. Practical and applicable are always good! But we have to do one very critical thing to make sure any of the development we provide ever matters, and we’ll look at that in the next post!

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