What Skills Matter Most?

Alexandra Levit, workforce futurist and author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workplace of the Future, was quoted in a recent SHRM article as saying “While most people are hired for their technical abilities, their soft skills give them career durability.”

In the last post, I challenged what I’ve seen to the traditional thought process of expecting a tangible return on investment from technical training while having far less clarity on how the rubber should meet the road after any type of training on those perceived softer skills. To me, it just boils down to developing the discipline to know what to look for and clarifying how those powerful skills should be applied.

Let me be very clear here: BOTH types of skills matter in every industry. But answering the question What Skills Matter Most? really depends on the specific role we’re hoping to fill. 

Our son, Matt, has an outstanding work ethic and caught onto the technical aspects of his job quickly when he started at a large manufacturing company several years ago. He learned to operate, set up, and perform basic maintenance on each piece of equipment in the department he worked in. Like I’ve seen happen in nearly every organization I’m familiar with, it wasn’t too long until that strong work ethic and solid technical expertise landed him a shot at serving as a back-up lead in that department even though many of his coworkers had been there longer than he’d been alive. One of the first nights he was filling in while the regular lead was on vacation, I received a text asking “How do I get the people on my assembly line to do what I tell them to do?” I won’t go into that whole story here, but that question alone certainly drives home the point that his technical skills with the machines didn’t necessarily translate to the skills he would need to be a great lead for the team he had just become responsible for…

Don’t take any of that as a knock on Matt. I was just thrilled that he cared enough about being the best he could be that he even bothered sending that text. I’ve seen dozens of people go through that same progression and just yell louder when their team members didn’t do exactly what they said the first time! I’ve also seen more folks than I can count decline opportunities for advancement because learning those new skills wasn't worth the trouble…

Here’s the problem that I’ve seen come with declining those opportunities and neglecting to develop the soft (professional) skills to compliment those technical skills: earning and advancement potential is often capped! In Emotional Intelligence at Work, Daniel Goleman suggests that “when IQ and technical skills are similar, emotional intelligence accounts for 90% of what makes people move up the success ladder.”

Let’s consider carpentry, a trade I’ve been around for more than three decades. If I have three employees with similar technical skills - one who’s content to be a solid crew member, one who’s accepted a crew lead position but hasn’t done much to develop soft skills, and one who’s just as good at leading the crew as they are at doing the work - the pay range between them is going to be pretty wide! The first will probably top out several dollars per hour lower than the second starts at in their role, and the third will just about be able to write their own check! And on top of that, the one who builds both skill sets has something that will transfer to any industry where the others are somewhat limited to a specific trade... 

The career durability that Levil talks about isn’t just tied to one industry, developing strong soft skills gives us a chance to be effective in multiple fields and allows us to be versatile throughout our careers!

Now that we’ve looked at the impact developing those parallel skills can have, we’ll move to close the loop by creating a concise working definition of soft skills so nothing is left to guesswork. Until then, you’re welcome to check out the complimentary webinar Cindy and I will be hosting soon on Creating an Emotionally Intelligent Culture that Impacts Your Organization’s Bottom Line...


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