We Don't Do Soft Skills?
When I asked a successful process improvement consultant about his company’s approach to leadership and soft skills mentoring, he remarked, “Oh, we don’t do that. We’re not focused on that.” I was surprised how quickly he dismissed the complementary value that effective management contributes to business process improvement and organizational change.
By effective management, I mean the quality of leadership that optimizes team cohesiveness, employee engagement, and commitment to the principles of the business. While not precisely measured as discrete variables such as revenue and cost, staff morale, a sense of purpose in the organization, and higher levels of job satisfaction impact the numbers by which businesses rise or fall.
Soft skills are powerful determinants of corporate culture and business performance. #leadership
Soft skills are powerful determinants of corporate culture and business performance.
Within an organization, they influence the attitude that managers and staff share for their work and intra-company relationships. When employees at every level in a business embrace the purpose, mission, and ethics of the business, they extend and share those attitudes with customers, vendors as well as local, national, and global neighbors. Other profound subtleties of communication basics are acts of mentoring, teaching, coaching, team building, and conflict resolution. These aspects of leadership and communication provide the powerful means to achieve team cohesiveness.?
Higher order soft skills embrace an awareness that basic human traits such as talking and listening can build and sustain relationships of trust, respect, and allegiance. Effective application of communication skills strengthens bonds among families, communities and businesses. It has universal application including in the often testy world of politics. Excluding competency of expression and listening dilutes the efforts of process reform, organizational changes and compromise on thorny issues. Inclusion of management and communication skills improvement should occur in lock-step with operations’ reforms. Individuals will be more willing to participate and accept changes in an environment of trust and understanding.?
There are many books to read and seminars to attend on topics of leadership and effective communication. Some of the books top best-seller lists. Some workshops attract employees from all over the world. The importance of effective management is widely recognized. And yet, there is disappointment on many levels with the impact that these lessons have on an organization. Noticeable change in corporate culture is absent after flirtations with soft skills improvement.
So, here is where the discipline of business process improvement lends positive possibilities for enhancing attempts to improve basic and advanced leadership talent – clearly defined steps to transform inputs into desired output. In addition, the amassing of metrics to evaluate effort offers a window into the success of leadership initiatives. Some changes work; others need further refinement. This is common knowledge. The construction of process flow and measurements may be more easily achieved when manufacturing physical components or providing discrete services such as processing loan applications or responding to customer inquiries. But to fully benefit from the leadership initiatives, there must be a discipline to direct the application of knowledge acquired to real-life situations. This is where students of leadership, regardless of position and title, feel stranded amidst a sea of recommendations and guidelines.
The inputs in leadership sessions are the materials, conversations, role-playing, and other elements that elevate awareness of positive management characteristics and effective communication. The metrics are the measurable evidence that leadership characteristics have been applied or alternatively, that negative aspects have been reduced. The measurement of leadership enhancement is the weak link in the industry of management development. To make the process of soft skills improvement more robust, we need to complete the leadership enhancement cycle with observable evidence that verifies the extent of improvement.
Advancement in leadership and communication skills is driven by another type of process by which we acquire knowledge and understanding. We gather insights, even wisdom, into effective leadership through existing knowledge that then creates new knowledge. It is a cognitive process by which mental energy and activity build upon a base of understanding by awareness, attention, and comprehension of those events and stimuli that we encounter throughout the course of each day. Observation and language are crucial components to elevate the quality of soft skills. And, in turn, these skills affect not only one’s view of the world but the view of those with whom the manager interacts.
A new approach to develop better leadership and communication skills must include process steps to evaluate changes, hopefully improvements, in the characteristics that are presented to leadership participants. The collection of measurable results should be consistent in its approach over time, easily acquired, and certainly evaluated. Follow-up using the results of the study is essential. It is the absence of observable changes that distracts from the importance of soft skills enhancement.
The framework to present the ‘lesson’ for observation and assessment of impact on the participants will depend on the scope of the effort. Regardless of the scope, purpose of the project and desired outcomes should be revealed. When a special leadership project is launched due to serious problems in the organization, baseline numbers such as customer complaints or high employee turnover should be rolled into the plan.
In our own seminars, we stress the importance of establishing a mechanism to track the reaction to leadership insights and guidelines for effective communication. It is a challenging component of the presentation but it assures retention of the lesson after the conclusion of the presentation. In articles to be published in the future, we will explore specific examples of our work.
Reaction may appear as compliance, enthusiasm, or half-hearted attempts at change, or even dismissal. Gauging the return on investment requires follow-up to improve future attempts to enhance the overall culture of the organization. When organizations embrace the desire to learn and improve in areas of leadership style and corporate culture, the payoff is significant – both in measurable financial results as well as in the softer side of the business. Positive management style and effective communication is a valuable tier in existing processes of a firm. Its importance is magnified when change is on the horizon.
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