Most meetings don’t matter. While you may dismiss this reality as “part of the job,” think about how 15% of your work time, according to consulting firm Bain & Co, is spent in those time-sucking meeting. Change needs to occur and I have an idea.

But first, we need to be clear about how bad the problem is. For most of the meetings you are called into, being there is no different than being absent, except for the fact that less air and carbon dioxide gets exchanged, fewer eyes get rolled and your doodling of that cool logo you would use if you ever get up the courage to open your own business remains in your mind, not on the notepad sitting blank in front of you.

If you are like most of us, you know as you walk into a meeting – often 3 minutes or so late because the coffee maker wouldn’t work or it took you that long to talk yourself into going because “I have to” —  that you’re about to waste valuable time. It’s time you could be fighting fires (do firefighters have meetings?) or planning or the list could go on and on.

Meetings as Punishment

One person I know scheduled weekly staff meetings (the worst of the worst) for 4 p.m. routinely, figuring that if he was going to waste an hour that the best one to waste was the last one of his work day.

Another person I know attends a Friday afternoon meeting every week, even his vacation weeks, because it’s required. Talk about punitive and counter-productive. No one’s going to bring their A game to a Friday afternoon meeting, where every debate means that much longer until the weekend.

Holding a good meeting these days is challenging. Getting the right time, the right people, the right agenda, the right tone to encourage an open exchange, and on and on. I have coached leaders and teams on these matters.

A New Approach

A few weeks ago, I shared my strategy for creating better meetings on our award-seeking podcast, The Serious Soft Skills Podcast. Compressing meetings to the bare essentials seems to encourage the most effectiveness. I’ve tried stand-up meetings, fewer meetings with longer agendas, more meetings with shorter agendas and various other techniques.

But the Rule of Fours seems to work best. My Rule of Fours suggests that whatever time you are going to devote to meetings, cut it by four. If it’s slated for one hour, then cut it to 15 minutes. If it’s a half hour, then cut it to 7½ minutes. (If it’s a 15-minute meeting, scrap it. Do one-on-one, in-person meetings instead.)

This rule, which I have shared with a few people to good results, works for several reasons. Most importantly, the Rule of Fours shows you mean business. You want to get to the core of the matters at hand. No chit chat, no long stories, no bad jokes, no grandstanding, no crazy PowerPoint presentations. This approach doesn’t even allow for time to dim the lights, which is a guarantee for a bad meeting.

Taming the Meeting Madness

Second, this rule forces you focus on one, maybe two, main topics. Too often, with the exception of a brainstorming meeting where wild ideas are encouraged, teams take on too much in one meeting. It’s all issues on the deck, when focused meetings show success.

Third, if people have booked the hour for a meeting and get out after 15 minutes, they actually might have time to work on their action items from the meeting. Too often we leave meetings frustrated and after planned, which forces us to consign any action items we had at the meeting to later. If we even document them at all.

In our hyper-competitive business climate, wasted time costs us dearly. Making meetings matter again could help you regain the advantage you are seeking against your competitors.

Employers still have it all wrong when they hire. They focus too much on job applicants’ technical expertise and not enough on their soft skills.

Using this age-old approach to find the best employees and a good “cultural fit” is like throwing darts against a wall blindfolded and expecting to hit the target. Once in a while you will hit it, but most of the time you won’t. And you sure won’t be able to replicate any success you have.

Exactly 62% of business leaders consider experience and technical skills the drivers for their hiring decisions, according to a Forbes.com report on a Robert Half global survey.

Most employers know better

Oddly, 87% of those leaders acknowledged that they know that their most successful hires came about when they used time in the hiring process to evaluate cultural fit, which they said included values, belief and outlook.

Yet we continue to hire the same way we have for more than 100 years, when Henry Ford was making Model T’s and most jobs involved operating machinery. Today’s jobs are far different. In fact, 20% of jobs, mostly involving technology, didn’t even exist in 1980, according to the U.S. government. Most jobs involve working with people, the focus of soft skills, not machines.

Making poor or uninformed hiring decisions costs employers dearly, with replacement costs at up to 150% of the annual salary per hiring, according to some estimates. Add in the unbudgeted costs of a bad hire, including lost productivity, flagging morale among coworkers and potential departures among other key employees. Most good employees who leave a company don’t bolt over salary concerns, but rather because of issues with other employees or bosses. In other words, they depart because the culture no longer fits.

Moving past “laziness”

These factors make the need to address the hiring process in new ways quite clear. Still, we cling to the old ways. Where did you work, who were your “customers,” how many people making how many widgets did you oversee? Answers to most of these questions are easily pulled from a resume, a LinkedIn profile and references. Dr. Tobin Porterfield, co-founder of Serious Soft Skills and my co-author for The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success, attributes this disconnect to employer “laziness.” Anyone who has been on a job search committee knows that assessing technical expertise is easier and safer; you can assess it.

Admittedly, soft skills are harder to assess. Our research uncovered a total of 55 soft skills that employees and organizations use to achieve results at work. They range from listening, patience and empathy to teamwork, leadership and adapting to change. Deciding which ones give one applicant a leg up over another can be challenging, although we have a system that helps companies overcome this challenge.

Bringing new tools to the office

The payoff for beating this challenge can be huge. Imagine having 55 tools at your disposal to deal with the increased globalization, greater reliance on technology and incredible cultural differences (including generational differences) occurring in the workplace today.

The hiring process must shift its focus toward these 55 soft skills. Employers should do a check-box review of resumes and other materials making sure applicants meet minimum requirements. College degree, appropriate major, years of experience, necessary licenses and certifications must be vetted.

From there, the hiring process must change. Employers need to craft better job announcements, focusing more of their request on people’s soft skills. A simple shift from seeking “communications experience” to “demonstrated communication experience” could enhance the hiring process.

Sports teams focus on soft skills

Initiating the hiring process with a focus on a team or company’s existing soft skills portfolio, the skills each member brings to the table, would invite new discoveries. Imagine hiring to enhance a team’s soft skills portfolio through a strategic evaluation of that team’s strengths and areas of challenge.

Sports teams don’t win because every player does the same thing. They win because owners and coaches put a collection of players, each with their own strengths, in situations that play to that player’s strengths. Relief pitchers in baseball must demonstrate perseverance and a positive attitude, two soft skills, for they are certain to give up a lead and lose from time to time. Baseball managers choose players for this important role of closer as much for their soft skills as their ability to throw strikes.

Focusing more attention on soft skills in the hiring and employee-development process is the game-changer most employers are seeking. If companies are going to become more productive, collaborative and innovative in this hyper-competitive, fast-changing business climate, they will need to embrace soft skills more. And in the short term, those companies that do embrace soft skills more will have a huge advantage over their competitors.

We always hear how important a positive attitude is, but why and how do we ensure we have a positive attitude. We’ll tackle how to maintain a positive attitude in this episode of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore a variety of topics related to the soft skill of having positive attitude.

Among the topics they address are:

  • What if we bring a negative attitude to a situation
  • The negative effects of creating a hero among teams
  • “Faking it until you make it”
  • Pushing forward despite stumbles
  • Moving past problems
  • Confidence in myself and my team
  • Finding ways to overcome challenges
  • Being honest and open and how to leads to trust among team members
  • How sparks and cobbled together ideas can fuel better outcomes
  • Naysayers never get promoted
  • Not falling into the unrealistic and non-optimistic perspective

Tips for keeping or restoring your positive attitude

1. Set realistic goals and recognize when you achieve them
2. Don’t let setbacks dig into you
3. Be grateful – we all need others to succeed
4. Smile
5. Sleep well and eat well
6. Laugh at yourself
7. Populate your life with positive people
8. Don’t get stuck in the weeds

Next week

We will look at the complicated soft skills of understanding the ethical implications of our decisions.

Yes, it’s shameless self-promotion, but someone has to do it. And Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham finally celebrate the long-awaited release of the paperback version of The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success and explain how reading it will help anyone who works.

 

Among the topics they discuss in this short episode are:

  • How they came up with all 55 soft skills
  • Their surprise at how many soft skills employees use
  • The logic of the book
  • Where employees and leaders can benefit from reading the book
  • How to get the book

Want to buy our book, The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success? Visit Amazon.

Next week

We will go back to our list of 55 soft skills to explain how another one of them works and why it matters in the workplace.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore the soft skills of adapting knowledge to new situations, which seems easy enough. But many people struggle with what it means and how it helps build teams and careers.

Among the topics they discuss are:

  • How companies are relying more on people who can apply knowledge to solve new problems
  • Why this soft skill is so important to company growth
  • What other soft skills are included in this ability
  • Employers want people with new ideas, not the same old perspectives they already have
  • How successfully applying it can make someone a team leader, intentionally or unintentionally
  • Why compensation and opportunity follow good adapters
  • An example of adapting to the new situation of tariffs on products coming from China
  • A five-step process for applying knowledge to new situations
  • We can draw on others’ experiences to help us adapt to new situations
  • How multiple sourcing can help us find better solutions
  • Drawing on relationships and those we trust

Next week

We will explore the soft skill of being able to work independently or with minimal supervision.

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

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham talk about setting goals and prioritizing, which together make an important soft skills for managers, leaders and any employee.

Setting goals, as in organizing and prioritizing your work, is critical for team success. To make sure everyone is working toward the same overall goal, we need to assign tasks. Those tasks have to be completed on time or else others will be waiting.

Among the topics they address:

  • Examples of where setting goals and prioritizing are critical to achieving results.
  • How most of us have deadlines each day, week or month.
  • Why these goals have to be in sync
  • Tips for setting goals
  • Being SMART

We can set our own priorities in a day, evaluating what needs to be done, what others might need from us, what we need from others. The best employees are updating their priorities as situations change throughout the day. They don’t write a list in pen, but rather in pencil, with an eraser.

Good leaders and managers set realistic priorities and goals for their staff, ideally with their consent and buy-in. Rather than telling people what to do, they work with people to align personal and organizational goals to be the same. This shared vision can be powerful, especially when things go wrong. And they will.

No matter how much we prioritize, things go wrong. How we deal with it — by readjusting — can make or break us and our organizations.

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.

This is the last week of our Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy and this week we look at a specific job posting and talk about how the employer could have better integrated soft skills into the job posting, valuable information for employers and job seekers.

In this week’s episode, Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss various aspects of integrating soft skills into a job announcement.

Among the topics they discuss are:

  • Getting soft skills into the competencies and qualifications an employee needs
  • How to combine soft skills into one bullet in an employment announcement
  • Taking what’s in the job add and adding a story about your soft skills
  • Talking about a situation that covers lots of soft skills in the cover letter
  • Why a story is worth a thousand promises of what we can do
  • Using an employment advertisement to set good candidates up to succeed
  • How to show growth, not experience, at a job
  • How applicants can read between the lines of a job posting
  • Being a rock versus a rock star
  • Using soft skills to develop the fiber of your organization

Next week

We start the first of two weeks of how to become a Networking Ninja. Networking is an important career skill, encompassing many soft skills. We’ll break it down and give you some real good hints for networking effectively, even if you are an introvert.