Fortune 500 coach and author Peggy Klaus is a world-class trainer and has just had her second book released. Like her first title (BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It), this new one, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner, offers succinct, real life advice about how people can enhance their social, communication, and self-management behaviors so that they can move up in their careers. Here’s part two of my interview with Peggy:
LGL: You say that companies and schools are starting to take soft skills more seriously. How so? And what’s taken them so long to be recognized?
PK: It’s interesting to note that when I first began writing the book and I Googled soft skills, almost nothing appeared. Whereas now, only two years later, pages and pages of entries on the subject pop up. When soft skills were taught in the corporate world in the past, training was reserved for the highest levels and usually was limited to communication or leadership. Until very recently, companies only looked at what they thought affected the bottom line. They were convinced that hiring the very brightest people with the best academic credentials and technical skills would automatically make their companies successful. In reality, for those employees to function at their highest capacity—whether in leadership positions or not—they needed to be good at more than just their technical skills. Being effective requires communicating in a way that people can understand you and being excited about what you’re saying. It demands collaborating with people of different backgrounds, sometimes across the globe. It requires organizing your time and workload wisely. It involves maneuvering your boss and handling criticism. Ultimately, it requires managing your own career. Everything I just mentioned is part of the soft skills arena.
The good news is that companies are finally starting to respect the value of soft skills and have made the link between soft skills and high performance. Many firms are now taking soft skills into account during their recruitment efforts. Some colleges and universities, including engineering schools, law schools, MBA programs, and medical schools, are including soft skills in the curriculum.
LGL: What about soft skills research?
PK: A recent flurry of studies underscores the value of soft skills in the workplace, showing that soft skills competency can be as reliable an indicator of job performance as the more traditional qualifications of technical mastery or experience. For instance, a survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that MBA’s—although strong in analytical aptitude, quantitative expertise, and information-gathering—were sorely lacking in other critical areas that employers find equally attractive: strategic thinking, written and oral communication, leadership, and adaptability.
In another survey of 100 human resources executives, nearly half said that entry workers lacked writing skills and 27 percent said that they were deficient in critical thinking. It appears that young employees are writing company e-mails as if they were texting cell phone messages with their thumbs. In response, employers are sending a message of their own: When you’re in the office, put on those dress shoes and start spelling words out fully and correctly. You can find more of the research on my Web site.