I cringe when I hear people ask me if I conduct ‘soft skills’ training. The implication is that ‘soft’ skills are less critical in the workplace. I wonder if they think that ‘hard skills are ‘tough’ and ‘soft’ skills are squishy.
I have always used a different vocabulary: technical skills and non-technical skills. Before you think I’m just calling a potato a spud , let me define my terms:
Technical skills are those skills needed to handle the job tasks. They are learned through technical or operational training. They are the ‘roll up your sleeves and get the job done’ abilities.
Nontechnical skills are the skills people need to execute the technical skills. They are the interpersonal abilities that match up with personality and behavior. These can include communication, leadership, teamwork, and problem solving.
Technical Skills = What
Nontechnical Skills = How
It’s a problem if you have one skill set and not the other. I have worked with smart technicians who can’t develop others. I’ve worked with amazing influencers who are not good resources. It’s preferable if you have some aptitude in both arenas.
Every organization I have ever worked with wants to be profitable and hopes to gain and keep customers.
When it comes to employees, it’s a little different. Some leaders/HR folks assume that a certain amount of turnover is normal. Many care deeply about why people leave and work to reduce the percentage that departs. Several recognize that attracting employees, retaining employees and developing employees is the best way to increase profit and customer satisfaction. Others see employee development as the best way to stay in business. And there are a few that focus on the big picture – and can’t be bothered with the skills of employees because that’s what they hire the next level of manager to look out for.
My clients run across a broad spectrum on this: I have a few who opt to put their development dollars at the top, offering training, development, and guided execution for senior level professionals; then they might shop for bargain basement programs for their entry, first level supervisors and mid-level managers. I also have a few clients who offer any and all kinds of programs to any and all employees; those that opt to learn are viewed as having high potential and possible prospects for developing others. Some clients want feedback and others fear it or discount it.
I think employers today are kidding themselves if they limit either side of the equation. Today’s employees need both technical and nontechnical skills. You might say I’m biased – and I wouldn’t completely disagree. But knowing what without how makes for a scary scenario.