Soft or Hard Skills?

This topic brings back flashes (mostly traumatic) of conversations with many managers over the years of why it was important to not just focus on one. Lets start with the basics:

What Soft & Hard Skills Are

Skills that involve emotional intelligence are often referred to as ‘soft’ – this could be anything from having performance management training, customer service or understanding the vision and mission of your organisation. Skills that involve technical competencies are then referred to as ‘hard’ – these are skills like how to operate machinery, use the intranet or meet health and safety compliance training needs.

To put it simply, both of these sets of skills are crucial for a functioning business; ‘hard’ skills because you need people who are technically capable of doing the job they were hired to do, and ‘soft’ skills because to have a effective business you need to have some form of structure and have people that are able to manage others.

Do Operations Focus on Hard Skills Too Much?

I often see organisations who promote really incredible operational/technical people into management because that is, in many instances, the only way to ‘move someone up’ the career ladder/reward them for hard work. We think: if Jared is great at his job and the team looks up to him why wouldn’t we promote him?

Well there a few reasons why
– Has Jared received any management training?
– Does Jared realise that a large part of any management role is looking after and developing their team rather than doing the specialist work themselves?
– How will Jared cope with becoming ‘the boss’ to people that were his peers?
– What development has Jared received in thinking about where he would like his career to go? Is this something he wants to do?

Now – I’m not saying don’t promote Jared. He may become an incredible manager. But often Jared is promoted and the soft skills, the skills that enable him to become a great manager, develop his people (and you know, avoid potential employment lawsuits) are undervalued.

This is why HR often seem to be ‘pushing’ soft skills training on the business. Its not because hard skills aren’t important, its because most operational managers often already spend a great deal of time in that area, sometimes leaving the ‘soft’/people skill development in their team underdeveloped.

So What To Do?

– What can you get for your budget? This will be dependant on things like if you are in a city where there are a lot of competing training providers, whether the training topic is expensive (the more specialist a skill is usually the more is charged by training providers), does the training have to be certified etc.
– Do you have access to internal trainers? These might not be fulltime trainers – they might just be staff who have a lot of experience with the topic
– Is formal training really the answer? Sometimes we go straight for formal training when there are lots of other ways we could address an issue: coaching with other staff, utilising free resources from the internet (check out for info on the 70:20:10 model), having a ‘Lunch & Learn’ (where you have an informal training/experience sharing session with a provided lunch) etc. 

There is no easy answer here – both hard and soft skills are important, although I would argue that both are equally important to your bottom line. Consider conducting a TNA (training needs analysis) to prioritise your teams needs, and remember that not everything requires plonking someone in a training course – informal coaching can make a world of difference. 

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