The time has come for us to address one of the biggest technology issues of the day: Is leaving a voicemail a waste of time?

More often than not, when I leave a voicemail message for someone, it is never listened to.

Instead the person calls me back (thankfully!) and says the same simple words, “I saw you called. What’s up?”

Frustrated me wants to say, “What’s up is that I left you a message and you should have listened to it before you called me back.”

Eliminating the Middle Step

But over the last few months, I have done the same thing to people who have left me voicemail messages. I just checked my iPhone. I have 11 voicemails that I haven’t listened to over the last month, and in all but one case – sorry, telephone solicitor – I have returned the calls without listening to the message.

My actions aren’t unique. I see and hear people do it all the time.

Here’s the thing: It’s just easier or quicker to call the person back since most of the time the next action after listening to a voicemail is that you are going to call the person back anyway. Just eliminate the middle step: the voicemail.

Technology’s Effect

Part of me wants to suggest that this trend highlights a growing need for us to connect with real, living, breathing, speaking human beings because we spend too much time staring at computer and cellphone screens, or typing messages.

Of course, the technological advancement that enables us not to listen to voicemails is the capturing of the incoming caller’s telephone number on iPhones and Droids regardless of whether you answer or not. So if you have called someone’s cellphone, they have your number and when you called.

Some corporate phone lines, especially VOIP lines, do the same thing – although my experience is that it’s not the norm yet.

From the perspective of business efficiency (imagine voicing 50 or 100 voicemail messages in a day), leaving voicemail messages seems like an inefficient, outdated practice.

By abandoning voicemail, we save time when we are making or receiving calls from people. No need to do something that no one will ever use. Right?

Different Rules for Email

Before we create a new rule, let’s look at this situation another way. What if the communication occurred over email? Who would reply to someone’s email without reading it first? No one.

By that logic then, we should listen to the voicemails before we return the call. Probably.

Still I doubt that people are going to go backward. One of the great lessons of technology is that once you move forward, there’s rarely a chance we go back to our old ways. Who’s still using an 8-track player, a Gameboy or an iPod regularly?

The real problem is that we can’t anticipate whether someone is a voicemail listener or a disregarder. If we get it wrong, we jeopardize the very communication we sought to establish by placing the call in the first place.

Potential Missed Opportunities

That’s the problem. I’d like to stop leaving voicemail messages, but I fear I might miss an opportunity.

For the time being, I guess I have to keep leaving them, knowing the vast majority of the people I am leaving for them will never listen to them.

How are you handling this situation?

Most business owners and operators typically take stock of their company’s financial at this point in the year, which for most serves as the fiscal halfway point.

For some owners the first week of July is one of two times they actually look at their numbers. Others dig deep into their numbers at this point, checking them against their forecasts and realities. They create their spreadsheets, charts and graphs. They pore over the data, looking for trends and warning signs. And they forecast their future actions.

Those details are important to the success of any business. Knowing the financials is a critical component of running any business.

Businesses have another metric that they should be watching as closely. Yet most avoid or overlook this important asset.

What about your employees? Are you taking stock of where they stand in your business?

Employees make or break a business. We can’t create goods and services without them. As our businesses grow larger, our employees become a growing face of our creation. Without them, there is no us.

I see and talk to owners who often have no real sense of their employees. They are no different than the technology, another cog in the company’s big operational machine.

These owners either aren’t looking at or have become too engrossed in their own work life to pay attention.

They don’t see the things I see at businesses all the time. They miss the employee who smirks at a colleague or customer. They don’t recognize an employee’s lack of attentiveness to little things like a piece of trash on the floor or a faulty light bulb. They don’t hear the negative talk occurring in the office or on the sales floor. They don’t know that the employees are arriving late or leaving early.

They don’t see these red flags because they don’t want to. After talking to hundreds of business owners, I know the reason they don’t look or see these issues. To see them means they have to deal with them. Many business owners are either unsure of how to or afraid to look more closely at their employees.

Better to hide their heads, they think. If I can’t see it, it cannot hurt me. Every little child will tell you that about the monster under the bed. Except the monster isn’t real.

Employees and their attitudes and interest in their workplace are real.

I can’t count the number of times a key employee has left a job suddenly and in talking to the owner a few days or weeks later, they admitted that they probably should have known. The signs were there. The employee used more sick time than usual, wasn’t demonstrating the same level of commitment or creativity as usual, or just seemed tired by the job duties.

Imagine the same business owner saying I didn’t look at my bank account for six months or a year because I didn’t know how to deal with it. Impossible.

Knowing the truth about your employees won’t just help you feel better about the company. It will fuel additional growth. Happy, engaged employees are more productive and more innovative.

I have been researching, coaching and training employers and employees on many workplace issues.

From those experiences I can offer some questions you may must ask yourself about your employees.

  1. Do your employees understand your company’s underlying mission and does it resonate with them?
  2. Are they taking care of themselves so they can perform their duties at work effectively?
  3. Are they taking on new challenges and being challenged in their work on a daily basis?
  4. Do they see a path for promotion and advancement?
  5. Do they work and play well with each other? (Extra points if they can argue passionate with one another to reach a better solution to a challenge.)
  6. Do they share the good news and the bad news with the people that need to know, including you?
  7. Have your employees documented their processes and procedures so your business will continue to operate successfully if one of them chooses to leave?
  8. Could your employees work effectively if you had to take an unplanned or extended leave?
  9. Do they feel rewarded beyond their compensation and benefits for their hard work?
  10. If they could choose where to work, would they choose to work at your company?

If you cannot say “Yes” to all 10 of these questions, then you may want to invest as much, if not more effort, on your employees as you put toward the financials.

Study after study supports the notion that employees want to work in an environment where they can contribute and feel valued for that contribution.

The changes you may need to consider for them to feel like valuable contributors don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Most of these areas require more thought and action than money.

The payoffs can be enormous. The financials you may be reviewing closely this week could look far greater in a few months with action to better reflect your commitment to your employees.

The World Wide Web, celebrating its 30th anniversary today, is one of the most — if not the most — powerful tools launched in the last 50 years, if not ever. The Internet helps us connect across cities, states, countries and worlds; it bridges gaps and speeds up time in good and bad ways.

But let’s face one important fact: the Internet is not a suitable replacement for face-to-face interactions. When we look someone else in the eye, we see so much more than a face.

Communicating through Skype or FaceTime or any of the other virtual communication tools the Internet spawned attempts to overcome this obstacle. But lag time and being on a screen, not to mention the ability to mute or go without video, makes us prone to distraction and impedes us from achieving the kind of results spontaneous discussion sparks. How many times have you been in a face-to-face discussion at a bar, restaurant, grocery store, sporting event and made a valuable connection? I have yet to be able to do that on the Internet because everything is categorized well, which kills any chance of serendipity.

Face-to-face doesn’t just give us someone else’s reactions, it invites them. Our eyes plead with someone else to show us what they are thinking through their face in a way I have yet to master on a video conference call. When I see your face, I can see when you bored; your eyes go elsewhere. I sense confusion because your eyes and facial expressions give it away. Armed with this valuable information, I can react and change course.

Try changing the course of the conversation in a good way after you sent an email to someone that they misinterpreted in a way you didn’t even consider possible. Apologies and restatements only can do so much.

When I am speaking to or training groups, I often talk about the power of eye contact. I demonstrate its power by playing the staring game, where I stare a person in the eye for as long as it takes for them to look away. I have never lost in probably 200 attempts. Not just because I played the game with my dog Dabney and wore him down for years, but because I am not uncomfortable in that space when you are staring intently at another person. I actually welcome it. Maybe it’s the old newspaper reporter in me that knows when that space exists, the other person is apt to fill it with something valuable.

I fear I am alone. A growing number of people seem to find this prolonged eye contact uncomfortable (even if I warn them that it’s coming).

That muscle that allows us to look inside ourselves and others while staring appears to atrophied in so many people. Or, and it scares me to admit it, they never had the chance to develop this muscle.

I was thinking about this shift while staring at my new great-niece Leah last Friday night. She was being fussy, which troubles me since I was holding her. But when I looked into her three-week-old eyes, she calmed. She liked it. I know: She can’t focus yet and she probably was catching the light off my glasses. But still. She didn’t look away. She kept that eye contact.

Few of us want or can hold that kind of attention. If anything, the Internet has hurt our attention spans. More than two decades ago, teaching a college class involved standing in the front of the room and lecturing – and perhaps drawing on the chalkboard. Today, teaching a college class is more akin to hosting a late-night talk show – introduce the topic, get feedback, shift gears to a PowerPoint, start an activity, a little more discussion, then a breakout session, followed by a hand’s-on activity, then a wrap-up. If any segment exceeds eight minutes, you’re in trouble. (At the risk of divulging my teaching trade secrets, extra points for pop culture references or making anything connect to an episode of “Friends.”)

Like most people, I use the Internet every day in important ways. I would struggle to live without it. But I know I would struggle more if I couldn’t look the people who matter to me in the eye and tell them something important or receive important feedback.

I hope that when the Internet reaches its 40th anniversary, we will have moderated its use. We should focus on what it provides us that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. And not cat videos, old episodes of “Speed Racer” and 24/7 shopping. We should continue to use it as the most powerful research tool ever and to bridge distances when no other option exists.

But whenever and wherever the option exists, we should never ever allow the Internet to replace face-to-face communication. I wish I could see you nodding in agreement.

Mike Shelah, an expert and early advocate for LinkedIn’s ability to connect people for business, shares his wisdom on LinkedIn, networking and soft skills in this episode of the Serious Soft Skills podcast.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham are joined by Mike Shelah, head of Shelah Consulting (http://mikeshelah.com), for a discussion of the following:

How to use LinkedIn to make quality connections
What not to do on LinkedIn
How to gain permission to ask
Mike’s formula for using LinkedIn effectively
What soft skills come into play
Examples of good networking
Tips for being a better networker

Also, Mike talks about a side project, Pathfinders for Autism (http://pathfindersforautism.org), where he serves as a board member and helps families like his own who have children who have autism.

Next week

We look at cultural awareness and why its importance only grows in our current workplace. New episodes every Wednesday.

We aren’t talking about writing the Great American Novel, but rather how to draw on the powerful aspects of storytelling to explain our work and our ideas so we connect emotionally with any audience.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore this important aspect of success, looking at it helps us at interviews, in meetings and when working with any other group. Storytelling can work in any situation where we talk about our work.

Among the topics they cover in this episode of the Serious Soft Skills podcast are:

  • Defining how storytelling fits into explaining ourselves
  • Making an idea “sticky”
  • How widely this approach can be used
  • The value of storytelling in a meeting as simple as a daily or weekly status meeting
  • The right preparation for storytelling to succeed
  • Understanding our audience’s needs
  • Why less is more in some cases and why more can be valuable at other times
  • Self-editing our stories to meet specific needs
  • Why writing the story out in advance or developing great themes and plot lines won’t work
  • Building the story from two or three key elements or takeaway you want the audience to learn from your story
  • Planting words to make things sticky
  • Sticky versus stinky
  • How to prepare for an interview to ensure you’re sticky
  • Making experiences become sticky through storytelling
  • Developing an emotional connection
  • Real examples of how storytelling can make us look better to employers and others
  • How anecdotes and stories about what you do in a job can help others understand the value you can bring to their organization
  • Going from a worker to a worker who did important work
  • Finding stories to explain how our skills can be transferrable

Responding to listeners questions the co-hosts explain why people don’t talk much about soft skills and how often we call on our soft skills, often without even being aware of it.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham answer questions about soft skills from some of their listeners in this episode.

Among the topics they discuss:

  • How soft skills tend to be overlooked
  • Why people fail to recognize the role of soft skills
  • How combining soft skills with technical skills makes employees and organizations better

Don’t miss our free ebook offer for our ebook, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, using a special coupon code that we mention in the middle of this episode.

Next Week

We will be exploring the soft skill of adapting to change and prioritizing and how it helps people be more successful in their jobs.

Enthusiasm is not just a soft skills; it’s an attitude, a choice we make that is often heavily influenced by our workplace culture, but more importantly, success. We’ll discuss how and why enthusiasm is important in every workplace.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the following:

  • The value of enthusiasm and why it’s a soft skill
  • The Fake It Till You Make It reality
  • Enthusiasm is a form of professionalism
  • How optimism fuels enthusiasm
  • Tips for how to look enthusiastic, even when you aren’t
  • Why enthusiasm is infectious and how the opposite is cancerous
  • How team members can help a person who lacks enthusiasm
  • Winston Churchill’s view of enthusiasm and its effect on success
  • Why managers and leaders have to bring the enthusiasm
  • Where journaling and daily reflection can help you retain the enthusiasm
  • Making sure failures don;’t pile up
  • Portraying things to encourage enthusiasm
  • Avoiding manufactured enthusiasm

Next week

We will answer more questions from our listeners on soft skills in their workplace.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explain how to become more effective as a networker, what soft skills you should be applying and how you can overcome your fears and reluctance to make connections that can enhance your career.

 

LinkedIn.com in 2016 found that 85% of all jobs come from networking. Therefore, our ability to be successful at formal and informal networking can play a huge role in our career enhancement and opportunities.

Among the topics they discuss are:

  • How to approach networking
  • Networking for introverts or reluctant networkers
  • Negotiating your way through formal networking events
  • Ways to win at informal networking events
  • Networking as a means of building trust, which can may lead to business
  • What your network can do for you and others in your network
  • How networking can help you better understand your customers
  • Taking advantage of opportunities that come through networking
  • Getting ready to be successful at networking
  • The soft skills that underpin successful networking
  • Why “I can help you” won’t work
  • The wingman approach to networking
  • Six things help you to gain trust in seconds

Order our book, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, from https://serioussoftskills.com. Use the coupon code “six weeks” to save 50% on the price. But act before the coupon code expires.

Next week

We will dig deeper into becoming a Networking Ninja by playing through some typical scenarios that face people who are networking like how to end a discussion without upsetting anyone.

Soft skills are the true differentiator that helps people with strong technical skills earn jobs and transform their organizations, the hosts explain while answering listener questions.

Introduction

Bob Graham (‘0:20’): Welcome to Serious Soft Skills, Episode 16. With me is Dr. Tobin Porterfield.  For you newcomers and those of you who have been with us for a while, you may or may not know we have uncovered a list of 55 soft skills. We dug this list up though academic research and our teaching of college students and work in various industries. Paying really close attention to these soft skills we are now doing this podcast to discover what each of these soft skills means and how they fit into our lives. Today we are going to extend that into a new direction and take some listener questions. It’s always exciting. We’re picked some really hard ones. Hopefully, we can find our way through them.

Soft Skills Are Not Teachable

Graham (‘1:16’): The first one comes from Anonymous, and you are going to see why in a second. Anonymous says, “Why do you guys care so much about soft skills? We either have them or don’t so why are you spending so much time on them?” 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘1:46”): I like to question things. I have a skeptical mind. I want to ask if this is real. The argument that sets it up most. We kind of tee this up in the beginning of our book. The business environment has really changed. The business world is hyper competitive. Things are changing quickly. Technology change is coming on. The workplace has changed. The type of work we do has changed. It has made soft skills more important. It’s not that they haven’t existed. There are ones of us that have stronger sets of soft skills, stronger in some areas. But it’s something that we need to bring to the workplace these days. A recognition of what they are is critical, as is a solid, honest self-reflection of where we each are on those soft skills is essential to the success of organizations. We have to say soft skills are there in the workplace, and if an individual has been able to avoid developing soft skills for a long time, that avoidance time is passed.

If we are going to be effective in the workplace today, soft skills are not optional.

Graham (‘3:02’): I would agree with all of that. I would add that you and I have countless examples of students we have taught who performed better when looking for a job and get the job because they have more soft skills. They are more in demand. We know that from research, and not just our research. Employers are looking for soft skills like problem-solving, written and oral communication. When they see people that can offer those skills, those are the people who are getting hired. I tell my students all the time that there are thousands of people just like you with that same engineering or writing degree, or whatever degree. How do you differentiate yourself? 

You all know the same technical expertise. It’s the soft skills, how you are going to apply them, how you are going to interact with people, that ultimately separates some from the pack.

Porterfield (‘3:57’): You said it and that is how we position soft skills. They are not in place of technical skills. It’s how we implement and integrate those technical skills in the workplace. The people and the organizations that have valued and strengthened soft skills are better performers. They are able to take the same engineering skills, which we can hire into any organization if we have the money to hire people, but whether we are actually able to innovate, solve problems or transform an organization using those soft skills, that’s where the soft skills are going to come in and make a huge difference. Soft skills are the differentiator between who gets the job and who doesn’t, between whose successful and who is not, and which organizations are successful and which ones are not.  

Did You Guys Make Up that List of 55 Soft Skills?

Graham (‘5:00’): Our next question comes from BiBi. I don’t know if that’s a man or woman, boy or girl. You talk about your list of 55 soft skills. Where did your list come from really? I think that question is code for, I think you guys are making this list up and just doing a podcast on stuff you made up. Can you walk us through how that list came about because you did the hard work on that list?

Porterfield (5:27′): I was at the same place. I’d heard of soft skills. I felt like this was soft skills. Then I  heard that that was soft skills and that was soft skills and other things were soft skills. We came together to do soft skills research out of frustration. We wanted to really figure out what soft skills are. We made the decision that we should look into the research, starting with academic research and books that have been published related to soft skills to see what all of these soft skills perspectives are. We went back through. I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember the number of articles, publications, journal articles, papers going back into the 1970s that somehow mentioned soft skills.

Chasing Down Our List of 55 Soft Skills

Porterfield (6:02′): The wonders of technology today enable us to search for the key words like “soft skills,” “professional skills,” “non-technical skills” and do these searches. We got back 10s of thousands of resources, but we wanted to find the best resources to explain what soft skills are and are not.  Let’s not look at blog posts and things like that. Let’s look at academic research that’s been done at credible universities and books that have been written by credible authors. Typical of research, as we started to accumulate that list, we started to see duplication of the terms — oral communication, speaking skills, being able to speak clearly. We saw that different terms meant the same thing so we had to link together the synonymous terms. We also had to separate the terms when they were new. We had to make those judgments. This one talks about presentation skills, which is a little different because it brings in the technology and the visual aspects. We parsed all of that and were left with a list of 55 soft skills. But as often happens when you are doing research, when you are searching for a topic, you find repetition. We got to a point where we said we think we have the full list. We got to a point where we saw repetition and nothing new coming in. We felt we had a good, comprehensive list of soft skills. But we also recognized that when we go forward with this list, someone’s going to read what we are writing or hear what we are saying, they are going to tell us that we forgot about this or that. I know there are probably more than 55 soft skills. I hope we get to that point. We are willing to add to that list of 55 soft skills. I think we have the most full view of soft skills that we have ever found. People came at them from different angles from their needs and their interests. We wanted to cut across that and come up with the real portfolio, because the list of soft skills is so large. Out of that set of soft skills, different people and different organizations need to say we need strengths in these areas and those other ones are not as important to us right now. The ability to treat it like a Chinese menu and pick off what you want is important.

Which Soft Skill Will Help My Career Most?

Graham (‘8:42’): That leads me now to the next questions. Trevor asks, If I want to improve my career, which soft skills should I work on first? Do you mind, Toby, if I take a stab answering that one?

Porterfield (8:56′): I was hoping you would take a stab at answering that one.

Graham (9:05′): Any one soft skill isn’t going to make all the difference in the world because we have that portfolio of 55 soft skills. As we discuss in earlier episodes, we talk about different groupings of soft skills. We talked about Individual soft skills, Nexus or one-on-one communication soft skills, Group soft skills and Enterprise soft skills. You could go back and listen to those episodes and you might do best to start with the Individual category that includes things like empathy, patience, respect, perseverance. Those soft skills are the ones I would think of as foundational. They are the ones we really need to have inside us to go on to the next level and really expand. If I was going to pick one to start with, I would start with the one Individual soft skill I am weakest at, then the next one and the next one after that. Even the ones I am really good at, I would ask people about how you are with them. The feedback can be that you aren’t excellent at it. They might tell you that you are not the worst or okay at it. That’s the thing about this list of 55. There’s always improvement to make. It’s like running. You can always come up with another personal record. If you shave 5 seconds off your time today, that means you get up tomorrow and you hope to shave off another second off that day. 

Porterfield (’11:03′): That really gets at the root of the issue. Do you have another listener question?

Should Soft Skills Be the Focus in Interviews?

Graham (’11:23′): Our last question comes from Evan K. If soft skills are so important, why aren’t they the focus of job interviews? And he asks the logical next question. Should they be?

Porterfield (’11:37′): We are starting to see soft skills being more of a focus of job interviews. Certainly, we have a lot of different types of organizations out there that are starting to focus more heavily on soft skills. With our research, we looked at job descriptions as a way to vet our list of 55 soft skills. We found them out there in job descriptions, online job postings, prevalently. It’s a process. Soft skills are recognized now. We are seeing them in the job descriptions. I know when we talk to our students when they come back from job interviews, they are often amazed that soft skills came up. They expected to be talking about their knowledge of marketing, or the case they worked on, or this supply chain problem I solved. They come back and tell us that you won’t believe that they asked a situational question. They asked the student to tell them a time that you had to persevere to get through to what you wanted to accomplish? The student says she wasn’t ready for that kind of question. I say cheers to the company. That’s great. Recognizing that those soft skills are important, even when it’s in the job description, and teasing them out in the interview process is difficult. Now, we are faced with the challenge in our classrooms to prepare our students to be able to articulate those soft skills in the interview. They can’t say that they are really uncomfortable with that question and not answer it at an interview. Not answering is the ticket to the door. The company wants to hear you think on your feet and really be able to respond to questions like tell me a time when you had to deal with conflict or tell me a time when you had to come up with an innovative solution. How did you drive that and motivate your group? We not only need to know what our strengths are with soft skills, but we have to be able to story tell.

Graham (’13:20′): With the students, it’s often about helping them to understand what soft skills are in the first place. If you are not aware of soft skills, it’s really hard to have that storytelling around them. It’s awareness of soft skills and their role in organizational growth that comes first, then how do soft skills fit into what I am doing now. 

Forecasting the Future 

Graham (’14:00′) Frankly, as we have evolve with soft skills, we are going to get to that place where people will seek out internships and opportunities to boost their soft skills, maybe as much, if not more than their technical skills. Typically, we choose internships and jobs on the technical skills. Wouldn’t it be interesting to choose a job based on your soft skills. If you have the ability to manage projects and solve problems, those are transferrable skills. Some people call soft skills transferrable skills. If you could take those skills to another job. You can learn how to make the widgets at a different company, but if you can manage projects, pretty much once you know what they are doing, you can manage a project. That’s part of the beauty of soft skills. They are no longer confined to one company. It’s no longer only what you learned at that company about how they make products or deliver their specific services that matters. When you go to a new company, you are no longer a blank slate. You are someone who has all that experience and all those opportunities to build your soft skills portfolio, and now you have the chance to leverage them at the new company.

Porterfield (’15:00′): That thinking is right on track with how we see soft skills and soft skills development., A lot of what you bring is experience to a job is your ability to apply your knowledge to the discipline. You have done that marketing campaign, you have done month close in accounting. Those are awesome experiences. But those experiences related to working in a group, teamwork, innovation, problem-solving, those are the ones that really bring great benefit to your current and next organization.

Next Week

Next week, we will dig into another one of the 55 soft skills. Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

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.