Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham look at the soft skills that guide an organization and its culture toward change and a shared vision.

 

Bob Graham (‘0:00’): Coming up, we’re going to talk about the list of soft skills that play the most prominent role in organizations and organizational change. That and more in just a few seconds.

Introduction

Graham ‘0:20’: Welcome to Episode 8 of Serious Soft Skills. I’m Bob Graham and with me as always is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, (not this month, but soon we will be back at it, we’re getting close); we collaborate on researching soft skills (boy, do we), and we both have used and seen others employ soft skills over the course of our long and illustrious careers, not that long and not that illustrious. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills. Let’s get to it.

Captaining the Ship

Graham ‘0:55’: We talk about organizations big and small needing a leader, someone who can chart the course for how the company is going to evolve. Without leadership, there’s no captain to the ship. That’s the analogy I like to use. You’ve got to have a captain. Even if it’s a one person company, there’s got to be a captain. We both know examples of businesses that are rudderless, that no one is steering, that they are just blowing in the wind. We’re going to talk about the soft skills that make captaining of a ship, whether it’s a business or an organization, possible. But before we get into that, can you sort of explain where we are? We have been going over these soft skills in groupings we created over the last three or four weeks. I thought you could set it up for us.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:43’: In our research, we identified over 50 unique skills that make up what we consider that soft skill set. That number certainly is overwhelming, and where do you even start? We took the approach of how do you eat an elephant: One bite at a time. We took that 50+ and broke it into four groups. What will be challenging for us is that we formulated those groups based on where those soft skills are applied in the organization. We first started with Individual soft skills (Episode 5), which include loyalty, time management, things that the person internalizes and brings with them. Then, we moved onto Nexus soft skills (Episode 6), which are those soft skills you use in one-on-one interactions. Then, we expanded out to Group soft skills (Episode 7), which are obviously those special skills you need to operate in an environment with several people or more. Now, here we are with the top group, which we call Enterprise soft skills, because they really separate themselves. What is really challenging about these Enterprise soft skills is that they also apply in other levels, but what makes them distinct and the reason we pulled them into the Enterprise soft skill level was that they can be very clearly applied in a strategic way. 

An Example of Enterprise Soft Skills

Porterfield ‘3:10’: Let me just give you an example. Being persuasive is one of the soft skills we put at the Enterprise level. Certainly at all levels of communication, we want to persuade people to our thinking, we want to be able to communicate our ideas. So we want to have that influence factor. But that is so much more critical to the leadership level or in a broader sense, when we are influencing the organization. You mentioned earlier that the leader developing as a leader, but there is that ultimate leader of the organization. There are also times that the ultimate leader is going to pull together team members from that organization or virtual organization to set policy, to set strategy, and all of those people are going to be bringing these type of soft skills to the table.

Graham ‘4:03’: We are using the term leadership pretty broadly. So a leader could be someone who is charge of three or four colleagues for a project or a three-month assignment. It could be a formal VP or a sales manager or a charge nurse, and it could be as high as the CEO or some other executive-level position.

Porterfield ‘4:30’: When we look at leadership, we are looking at someone who has responsibility for making sure that others are moving in the direction to support the goals of the organization.

How We Got To Here

Graham ‘4:41’: I like that definition. That clarified it for me. Just for people who are listening us for the first time. Toby was talking about Individual soft skills that was our Episode 5, then he talked about Nexus or one-on-one soft skills, which was Episode 6, and the group soft skills he talked about was Episode 7. If you want to go back and catch up and listen to those, you can. And if you really want to go back to the beginning, you can start on Episode 1, where we define what soft skills are and are not. We are not doing a lot of review. So I wanted to put that out there for our newcomers.

Listing the Enterprise Soft Skills

Graham ‘5:30’: When we talk about these Enterprise soft skills, can you give us the list of what we’re describing as those soft skills so we can start to chew on them.

Porterfield ‘5:44’: We only have eight Enterprise soft skills, which is a more manageable group. But the application and development of them is much more challenging. Let me go through the eight, and then we need to talk about the gap issue we mentioned before.

  • The ability to be persuasive
  • To identify, analyze and solve problems
  • Manages projects, with a strategic focus
  • Manages relationships
  • Uses conflict-management skills
  • Uses critical-thinking skills
  • Leads change
  • Manages people and human resources

Porterfield ‘6:26’: I want to cast all of those in a very strategic direction of the organization. Also, that gap that I mentioned a moment ago, these soft skills don’t allow the leader to move into a place with these and not have the other soft skills like listening and time management. We positioned our other groups to complement on each other. They somewhat build on each other. If you get into a level of leadership and don’t have those soft skills of listening, empathy and communication, for instance, it becomes very difficult to be persuasive, to manage change, to draw people in. To really analyze a problem, you need to look at it from different perspectives. That ability to communicate and develop that rapport with a group are skills that we have mentioned in other sections. Those soft skills are critical to developing these Enterprise soft skills as well.

Seeing The Forest, Not The Trees

Graham ‘7:22’: To me, it sounds like putting them together, these soft skills are about developing and being consistent toward a shared vision of what an organization is going to look like. It’s not the tactical, day-to-day stuff anymore. It’s the big picture. It’s seeing the forest through the trees. Often, employees are looking at their various trees. I have to do this project today and this project tomorrow. The leader is taking these eight soft skills and looking at the big picture. Where are we going to be in three weeks, three months, three years? What could happen industry-wide, politically, socially? All of those big picture things that you can’t really grab hold of unless you have a lot of good things going on with the other soft skills we have talked about and have manifested them into these eight. Is that another way to say it?

Porterfield ‘8:20’: That is right where we are. To look at different levels of these, whereas a person leading a team may want to carefully select skills and abilities at a very tactical level. At this point, when we talk about managing people and human resources at an Enterprise level, we are really looking at what kind of corporate culture do we have. How do people work together? Who are those integrators? How do we work with our outside firms and leverage their resources?

Enterprise soft skills involve a much more strategic and holistic look at the organization.

The Classroom Analogy

Graham ‘8:57’: Toby, I am wondering if you could take this to a really simple example that strikes me. I am catching you off guard, but I think you can pull it off. That would be in the classroom. We both teach in classrooms. Could you apply these Enterprise soft skills into a classroom setting? We have all been in classrooms. Some of us may have worked in big organizations, some in small ones. We have all been in classrooms. It strikes me that if you could walk us through how they show up in a classroom, it would crystalize for us.

Porterfield ‘9:28’: That’s a good way to look at these Enterprise soft skills. At least we all have common ground in that. But when it comes to the classroom environment, you and I know that when we conduct a course and that course runs over several weeks or months of time, there are normally some very important learning objectives that we have. For instance, we want students to understand business statistics, the tools to do that, to apply it to businesses situations, to run the analyses and interpret them. In the background, there are these learning objectives. For a company or organization, we would see those as being the strategic goals of the organization. That’s what’s trying to be accomplished. The people experiencing the class or the organization may only see the tactical like we have negotiated the contract or we have developed the product. They see the mechanics. The leader has a very close eye on those strategic objectives and orchestrating and moving that group to it. For us, as instructors in the classroom, that means being persuasive, being convincing of the importance of the topic. It means conflict management, being able to draw people into different perspectives, and maybe even getting to the point of disagreeing with you or with their peers. To have that opportunity to sort through it and use critical thinking and understand different perspectives, to crystalize an understanding.

I like using that term orchestrate because that’s what the leader is doing. They have a bigger picture than the others do.

Porterfield ’10:56′: And whether that’s a team leader or a department leader or a division manager or the CEO, each one of them has that set of strategic goals going on and they are orchestrating bringing members into concerts to get that done. That’s why we see conflict management and critical thinking, as we try to draw those people into those engagements.

Graham ’11:22′: If I’m in the classroom and I am a student. I am looking for the A and the three credits and move toward graduation. Your job as my teacher is to get me to realize that or cajole me into learning the things I need to learn that the grade goes away over time. No one’s going to take it away. But no one ever asked me at a job interview asked to tell them my grade in a course. They asked what did you learn and the skill sets, those types of things. That’s a great analogy for us to work through. An individual student in a classroom is focused on very specific things. They are not thinking about those learning objectives, that big picture, the fact that you chose one textbook that complements other textbooks, that gives a different perspective. I know this analogy resonates with me right now because it’s August and I am putting together my fall courses. I am doing that vision creation part of my world right now, knowing full well that my students will never say to me, “Hey, why are we doing this sequence of the textbooks? Why is the guest speaker coming this week, not that week? Why did you assign me that outside reading this week?” What they are looking at is, what do I need to take and learn to get the A on the test so that I can get a high grade and I can get my three credits.

Porterfield ’12:44′: In a work situation, similar to the grade, we could be fixated on the salary or renumeration, or the bonuses or something like that. If we look bigger picture, we might ask, what’s your job satisfaction? How much did you enjoy your career? When you get to retirement, is it just that sum of what you earned each year or is it what you accomplished, the contribution, the skills you learned, the impact you had? You are right. It is the same tension we deal with in the classroom. We want you to pass the course, we want you to graduate, but we want you to accomplish these other things that we have running in the background. The skills and the knowledge you will need to be successful.

The Leader’s Duel

Porterfield ’13:30′: It’s not unlike a company, where you have this duel. The leader understands the dichotomy of the two and how to blend them together.

Graham ’13:41′: That leads us to next week’s episode, where we talk about Empathy, which is really a key. That will be Episode 9, where we will talk about one of the soft skills that will help you be more aware of how people are reacting to you in that Enterprise area.

The List One More Time

Graham ’14:00′: It strikes me that without even trying put a really nice bow on things for today. Do you think we are at a good place to stop right now?

Porterfield ’14:08′: Let me just wrap this up with when we looked at leadership then, those soft skills that really are influencing the organization, we saw these Enterprise soft skills. We look at the person’s ability to persuade. There’s a lot underneath that. How do you persuade a group? If there’s no followership, there’s no leadership.

Graham ’14:29′: That’s persuade, not order them to do things. That’s developing a shared set of objectives to reach this goal together. That’s not you clean the carpet and you clean the walls and I’m going to sit here and marshal you through.

Porterfield ’14:47′: As our perspective is more long-term. Short-term, you can drive into submission. But in the long term, the organizations that are more effective persuade and get that group loyalty going. Next on the list of Enterprise soft skills is identifying and solving problems. Managing projects or having a project management perspective, which we will talk about more in a future episode.

Graham ’15:12′: That’s managing more than one project. That’s being able to manage the list of projects and make sure that the right resources are applied to each one.

Porterfield ’15:22′: What we really call a portfolio of projects.

That group of projects is really an investment for the organization. We want that investment in projects taking us to the best cumulative effect.

Porterfield ’15:37′: Managing relationships is another Enterprise soft skill, along with conflict management, critical thinking, and obviously, change management, which will get us back to that empathy issue. And managing people and human resources. It’s still a difficult list, but fairly focused at eight items.

Graham ’15:54′: It is certainly high level.

Our Podcast Goes Global

Graham ’15:57′: Thank you, Toby. We’re going to wrap it up. But before we do that, I am going to share something with you that I haven’t told you. I want you to guess a country where we have people listen to our podcast from. Besides the U.S.

Porterfield ’16:13′: I’m going to go with a real oddball because I think I have got you on this one. Kazakhstan.

Graham ’16:19′: I’m so sorry. They have not registered yet. But let me give you the list of countries that have. We have had people from Japan, South Africa, Canada, India, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherland. So we are truly international. We are big-time. 

Previewing Next Week’s Episode

Just for people who are new to us or people trying to figure out the easiest way to access us. We are available on iTunes and Google Play. I worked hard to get that set up. You can download the podcasts from there and make it automatic. If you like what you hear, please review us. We would love your feedback. You can do a review in iTunes and on Google Play. Reviews help people decide what to listen to. We hope you will give words to what people can expect form us so more people join in our group of people interested in how soft skills play out. That would be a big help to us. Now, I need to tease about next week a bit more. Next week, we are going to talk about Empathy. You could easily say it’s a soft skill that everyone can benefit from, but it’s a soft skills that is poorly understood and often overlooked. We’re going to help people see it’s value and how to develop it in our next episode. We hope you will join us next Wednesday when that episode comes out. Until then, thank you for listening, good day, and Toby, your favorite thing in the whole wide world, good soft skills.

Our mind is constantly evaluating the angles, possibilities, benefits and drawbacks of countless decisions, though we rarely think much about what is going on in our minds.

If I ask my boss for a day off next week, will I miss out on an opportunity? Should I tell HR that someone has been reporting his arrival time at work as far earlier than the reality? Should I tell my boss I am looking for a new job or should I keep her in the dark until I have one in place?

Each of these questions – and a million others that come up each day – requires a careful analysis of the situation. Consider the list of soft skills necessary for each of the questions raised above:

  • Listening – Paying attention to what others did in similar situations to learn the rules of the road.
  • Critical Thinking – Using the information obtained from listening and other stimuli to formulate an appropriate response to the situation.
  • Presentation – Evaluating other people’s words and actions through their presentation of information, and preparing a possible presentation of the information regarding the situation. Also, being able to talk coherently so that the people involved understand and appreciate your concerns and interests.
  • Negotiating – Determining what should be done and how to handle it with others involved.
  • Conflict Management – Being able to deal with any negatives outcomes or consequences that arise from your choices.
  • Adaptability – Being able to alter your actions as the situation evolves. For instance, if your boss seems distracted when you enter her office, recognizing the signals and putting off the discussion for later in the day.
  • Responsibility – Taking responsibility for your career and your success and for the requirements of your job.
  • Proactivity – Being proactive about your career and situation
  • Loyalty – Weighing the requirements of loyalty against what you need to succeed for yourself.
  • Confident – Having the confidence to admit to yourself that you are ready for a new job.
  • Ethical – Deciding what is best to do to meet your own ethical standards.

Most of us take action without much thought. We might do what someone else told us to do. We might just do what feels right. We might follow our instinct or our gut.

But breaking down the individual skills at play gets at one of the core realities of soft skills. They rarely, if ever, operate in isolation. One soft skill is dependent on other soft skills. Notice how many of the ones listed above play off of one or another of them.

Even though soft skills usually operate in concert with one another, we often cannot identify areas for improvement unless we look at them individually. And as we work on one soft skill, it influences and affects the others. Further complicating matters is that some soft skills are more in use than others, and some work more closely with others.