Being focused on the client, whoever that is — both internal and external to the organization — is a critical component of any successful business and a soft skill that we need to understand and incorporate into any business.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore client focus from two different perspectives — one looking at external customers and the other looking at internal customers.

Among the topics they address:

  • What threats come to from poor customer service
  • How customer service leads to strengthening relationships
  • How language plays into good customer service
  • Sour experiences foretelling of bad reputations
  • Failing to think through what matters to the customers, even if it conflicts with what employees want
  • Collaboration versus siloing as customer service problems
  • Setting shared objectives to deal with a strong client focus
  • Why companies should be looking more closely at external and internal clients
  • Exploring what clients truly need from the organization and how to deliver it
  • Why focus is a key

Next week

We will be exploring the soft skill of being mature, which isn’t about being experienced. They’ll figure it out — or at least attempt to next week on the Serious Soft Skills podcast.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham will tackle the soft skill of complying with standards. Sounds boring, right? Well, they’re going to make it interesting. We promise.

Among the topics they will discuss this week are:

  • Why complying with standards is a soft skill
  • The difference between internal and external standards
  • Written and unwritten standards
  • How the subprime mortgage industry breaking key rules caused a financial collapse
  • When standards need to be challenged or questioned
  • How time can require the need to evaluate old standards
  • When to question standards
  • The expectations that organizations have about complying with standards
  • How organizational culture can help with complying with standards

Next week

We will be talking about an important soft skill that forms a foundation for lots of organizational success: client focus.

Our latest Serious Soft Skills Podcast looks at how paying attention to details can help an individual, the team and the organization. But unfortunately, most of us struggle with this important soft skill. Learn why it matters and how to do it better in this episode of Serious Soft Skills.


Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore the many important benefits of paying attention to details.

Among the topics they cover:

  • Who benefits from our attention to detail
  • What happens when we don’t pay attention to details
  • How to pay attention to details more effectively
  • Eight hints for better paying attention to details

Next week

The Serious Soft Skills Podcast will explain how complying with standards makes the soft skills list.

Some see the soft skill of collaboration as a valuable soft skill, while others say it stunts creativity. The hosts give their views on these divergent points of view.

 

osts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore the various views regarding the soft skill of collaboration as a followup to their discussion in Episode 22 of what collaboration is.

Topics discussed include:

  • Does collaboration kill creativity, as Geoffrey James suggests in an Inc. magazine article, Collaboration Kills Creativity, According to Science?
  • Do teams add or distract from collaboration?
  • Taking academic research to real-world situations
  • How collaboration empowers us to solve problems in this complex business world
  • Can collaboration fall into “group think”?
  • Does collaboration fuel our need for socialization?
  • What problems are better solved as individuals
  • How collaboration creates holistic and effective solutions to complex problems
  • What’s the line between a situation needing collaboration and individual creativity
  • When does collaboration fit into problem-solving
  • When creative processes should call in collaboration
  • Headline writing and collaboration
  • The cost benefit evaluation of collaboration
  • Exploring Morten T. Hansen’s views in the article, When Internal Collaboration Is Bad for Your Company
  • When the cost benefit should be evaluated and what the assessment can accomplish
  • When to quit a project

Next Week

We’ll look at another soft skill, written communication, and how it plays a critical role in relationships and effectiveness.

Collaboration among workers can be the jet fuel for teams, pushing them to solve problems and achieve results that they could not have accomplished separately.

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss what collaboration is, why it is so beneficial to organizations and what it can deliver to teams and organizations.

Topics discussed include:

  • What collaboration is
  • How people’s perspectives have to align for collaboration to occur
  • Why collaboration gets us to a better spot
  • How collaboration stokes problem-solving
  • The distinction between collaboration for creative endeavors versus collaboration in getting products developed
  • Why collaboration is vital to supply chains and other services
  • What’s a “rallying point” and why do we need it to have successful collaboration
  • A “reel” example of collaboration
  • What underlies any effective collaboration
  • The soft skills that underpin all good collaboration
  • What mutual interdependence is and why it enables good collaboration
  • The best ways for collaboration to start
  • The role of the leader in facilitating collaboration
  • How passion can ignite collaboration

Next Week

Digging deeper into collaboration in the workplace.

Being persuasive is a foundational soft skill that everyone in an organization has a responsibility to use, although it’s vitally important to being a successful leader.

 

 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the soft skill of being persuasive and how it use can spur an organization’s growth.

Among the topics they discuss are:

  • Why being persuasive makes our list
  • How to differentiate between manipulation and persuasion
  • A working definition of persuasion
  • How persuasion leads to “buy-in”
  • How persuasion is about attraction
  • Identifying what makes a proposal fit the goals of an organization and how being persuasive fits in
  • When to set aside an idea because the buy-in is missing
  • Knowing when to move things forward
  • When persuasion becomes office politics and how to avoid it
  • Examples of persuasive arguments
  • How to ask for a raise using persuasion
  • Tips for what any
  • persuasion ultimately needs to include
  • When persuasion can run amok
  • When persuasion reaches coalescence
  • How understanding your audience is critical to any effective persuasion
  • Where an organization’s history plays into persuasion

Next week

We will explore a listener’s timely suggestion for another soft skill to add to our list of 55 soft skills.

Delegation, one of the 55 soft skills, helps determine which human resources to delegate to specific tasks to ensure organizational effectiveness.

In this episode, the hosts, Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham, discuss:

  • What delegation is
  • The intentionality of delegation
  • How return on assets (ROA) plays into deciding when to delegate
  • How delegation can build a better, deeper team
  • When delegation becomes shirking and avoiding the Tom Sawyer approach
  • How to know when good delegation is occurring
  • What managers should always be asking themselves
  • How an article from the Harvard Business Review written in 1974 explains good and bad delegation ( https://hbr.org/1999/11/management-time-whos-got-the-monkey )
  • Why poor delegation is actually worse than no delegation at all
  • The key to ensuring that delegation works well and builds organizations
  • What the closed loop is and how it helps ensure effective delegation

Next week

We’ll discuss being persuasive, why it makes the list of soft skills and how it plays out in the workplace.

Meeting facilitation may not seem like a soft skill, but it can easy serve as a gateway to more productivity and opportunity for leaders, managers and organizations.

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the cost and culture surrounding ineffective meetings and why good meetings really do require strong soft skills.

  • In this episode, they discuss:
  • The incredible cost to American companies from unproductive meetings.
  • Why meeting facilitation is on the soft skills list
  • How technology makes meeting planning and management easier
  • Why technology makes meetings even more difficult to facilitate
  • Tips for leading productive meetings
  • Tips for how to be a good meeting attendee
  • Why some meetings might not be necessary
  • The two times that holding a meeting really makes sense
  • Examples of the best and worst meetings
  • The soft skills at play in meetings

Share your best or worst meeting story with them at @RealSoftSkills or at podcast (at) serioussoftskills.com.

Next week’s episode will feature a discussion of the environment in which soft skills operate and how different environments could mean using different soft skills to achieve the same tasks.

Patience makes the list of soft skills. We’ll explain why and how it fosters opportunities at work and in careers.

 

Introduction

Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘0:20’): Welcome to Serious Soft Skills, Episode 15. With me is Bob Graham. For you newcomers, welcome. Let’s set the stage. We have uncovered a list of 55 soft skills from our review of academic research and our teaching of college students, and our work in diverse industries. We use our keen eye on soft skills to help uncover how they work and how we all can improve them. We look at what they mean and why they matter in today’s workplace.

Porterfield (‘0:48’): Now we are going to take a look at patience. As I say that Bob, I feel like I need to take a deep breath. Let’s. Deal. With. Patience. I feel relaxed when I say it.

Bob Graham (‘1:00’): I have been waiting forever for you to ask me that question. I am at the edge of my seat. Could he have gone any longer with that introduction and the guy with the really good voice that we paid so much money for. Then back to you. I just can’t wait any longer. I am just going to jump right into it.

Porterfield (‘1:23’): Maybe patience isn’t your thing.

Graham (‘1:23’): It is not. I openly admit that. This is one that I cringe to see some of the people who are around me to hear that I am talking about patience. I am not a very patient person. I am hoping we can learn some things from our discussion. I did some research because it is not my strong suit.

Getting a Handle on Basic Patience

Graham (‘1:47’): There was a good article about patience in the Huffington Post in April 2015. It’s by Dr. Heiger Zayed. I apologize if i misstated that name. He really explained where we start with the idea of patience. He say:

Patience gives us the option to cool down and to extend the grace to ourselves and others in the immediate moment — when we need it most. To be patient means we don’t react mindlessly to minor irritations and inconveniences. Patience gives us the freedom to respond in a more kind and gentle way.

Graham (‘2:42’): He ends with a really interesting idea, which is that it is one of the greatest virtues in all religions. And if you think about that, it is really true. We really value patience — like we value gold because it’s hard to find gold. And it’s hard to find patience, and when I find it, it’s often by just luck. I don’t think I am consistent with patience at all and that’s part of the challenge with it. But you want to talk a little differently about patience? Can you explain why it’s a soft skill and why we think it’s important?

How Patience is a Soft Skill

Porterfield (‘3:18’): We cast patience as one of our Individual skills that we bring to the workplace, but it’s not one we naturally bring to any relationship. It is something most of us have to work on, myself included. It gets back to that core element. It can be so damaging to a relationship to not have patiences involved. My concern with including patience or encouraging it in the workplace is that it can run in conflict with the need to be proactive. We want to be careful that we cast patience and some similar ones that we talk about with respect for the people we work with. Empathy is one of them. Patience isn’t about how we deal with time management or how we deal with proactive or taking initiative. Patience doesn’t mean sitting back and letting things come, but as Zayed had said, allowing us to take a breath and think about that next step and not respond in a way that will be inappropriate or damaging. We really are talking about being patient with other people and being patient even with ourselves and our situation. We have to let that develop on its own before we take an action that we may regret.

Graham (‘5:06’): Where I am impatient, it’s usually when I am dealing with other people or team activities, with group assignments where it’s just so slow. I want to get things done. I don’t want perfection. I just want it off the checklist and move to the next thing. And the tension I have sometimes is with people who are perfectionists, who want to do it the right way or get everything exactly 100% right. I just want to get this book closed on Friday afternoon and move to something else on Monday morning. I have found that it’s a good thing to push in some situations, but it can also be detrimental when you start to erode relationships and people start to pigeonhole you as the guy who just wants to rush through things to get things done. Or if they say he’s the guy who doesn’t care about quality. Those can really be detrimental. You said it well when we were prepping this: There’s a natural tension between patience and taking initiative.

Porterfield (‘6:15’): Or even time management or being proactive. 

Recognizing Time Realities

Graham (‘6:19’): Patience also is recognizing that things take a certain amount of time. Trying to get a contract approved by the U.S. government is going to take more than a day. That’s just reality. If you are trying to do other things, it takes time. This podcast takes time. There’s no way around it. It takes time to plan them, to do them, to post-production and it takes time for people to start to listen to them. We could say we will have 1 million listeners on the first day. But that’s not realistic. Some of patience is about being realistic situationally. That patience varies from situation to situation and day to day. When you think about time management, it’s about resource allocation. Sometimes patience for me comes with the allocation of resources. We only have so many hours to devote to this extra project. We only have so many dollars that we can put toward hiring additional staff. That’s just the reality. Sometimes patience is the result of a realistic assessment of the situation. Is that something that comes into play in project management?

Porterfield (‘7:48’): That really gets us to an interesting spot in this discussion. We have talked about patience with other individuals, with dealing with patience with ourselves, and then going to that outer ring of the planet, and recognizing that we have to have patience with the environment. You used the term realistic. 

We have to set realistic expectations for ourselves, but also of how the system’s going to work around us.

Patience in Action

Porterfield (‘8:15’): It gets us to the third area that we need to bring in. We talk about Individual soft skills, where patience is one of them. We talk about Nexus soft skills  between people, but we also get to Group soft skills. We can’t avoid talking about how important patience is to a group environment. Over the last few months, I have been involved in several strategic groups working in an organization to identify new opportunities to really take the organization into a new direction. That is a slow process. We spent lots of time together as a group. Some of these committees had 10 people or 20. These groups can get a little bit large, but it was challenging for me to be sitting here and thinking I know where we need to go. I know what the answer is to the questions. Can I just put some action items on the board and can we move on? I just need to take that breath and let people explore and discuss and run down some rabbit trails. To my surprise, this group came up with some ideas I never thought of and we ended up with some outstanding new initiatives, places to head to that we never considered. They wouldn’t have been on my list of action items. Having that patience to trust that process and allow people that latitude to talk about stuff and just let them get it out on the table. There might be threads we can pull on. It launched another conversation and another conversation. We ended up with results that I would not have gotten to had I just cut off the group, if I had said we talked enough, we need to put stuff on the board.

Porterfield (’10:00′): At the same time, we need to maintain that focus that we are moving toward something. We can’t meet endlessly. We need to get ideas on the table. There has to be that tension point. We have to recognize when we have circled the field too many times. We need to land this plane.

Patience Fights Emotional Reactions

Graham (’10:15′): That’s a great example. I have had similar experiences. I think, really, we’re going to meet again. Then they throw you by coming up with something that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. What patience leads to ultimately is perspective. In that moment of being patient, we sort of back away from the emotion and get back to the issue at hand. The thing that I struggle with when I become impatient is my emotion gets the best of me. I just want to get this thing done and move on. I want to move to the next shiny object. Done, done, done. Check off, check off, check off. It’s all emotion. It’s not rational. It’s not like anyone is saying I need to get this thing done by Friday afternoon. It’s me setting an artificial deadline because I like to get things done on Friday. But the perspective is that sometimes having the weekend to think over things and reconvene on Monday really has a value. Getting that distance for two days and not thinking about it, then hitting the ground running on Monday can give us new insights. You can ask if anyone sees it differently on Monday morning.

Patience ultimately gives us perspective and that ability to look at things differently.

Patience as a Gift

Graham (’11:42′): The gift I get is a deeper understanding of the context in which I am operating. It moves away from an emotional reaction to more of a logical reaction over time. When we think about our soft skills list, there isn’t one about emotion. But there is one about thinking logically. Isn’t that what we ultimately are thinking about?

Porterfield (’12:13′): It comes back to something we talk about in the book. That is that a lot of these Individual soft skills — patience, empathy, respect for other people, for example — and those higher level ones like innovation. That’s where we need those foundational soft skills. We aren’t going to get to real innovation without these foundational soft skills like patience. We don’t want to say there’s an absolute cause and effect here. But these foundational soft skills are the ones that are going to enable future soft skills and their development. Really, what we are talking about is transforming an organization. That’s really where we want to go.

Graham (’12:52′): Toby, that’s a great place for us to stop. We’ve really offered some insights into patience and why it’s a soft skill. Anyone listening to this has probably given up all of the patience we can ask for. To go any further would be a bad choice.

Next Week

Graham (’13:08′): Next week, we will be answering people’s questions . Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Project management is not always considered a soft skill. Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss its role as a soft skill and discuss the criticism.

What Project Management Is

Bob Graham ‘1:06’: We should probably start out first off with defining what project management is and explaining why it fits into our list of soft skills because most people, or some people, might be thinking that they can take a course of project management in college. Why are you saying it’s a soft skill? 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:23’: Let’s start that up. Let’s start with what project management is because we often see the term a lot. We see it in job advertisements. It’s prevalent out there. The term is often misapplied and misunderstood. A lot of time people say that it’s time management. Project management certainly has elements of managing your time and your resources. But it is another animal from what we consider time management.

Routine Tasks

Porterfield ‘1:55’: When I look at project management and I teach a lot of courses on it, I start my students with “Look, our whole lives, our work lives, our home lives — you can really bring everything you do into two areas: either routine things, the things I do everyday. I fill out my timesheet, I check my voice mail, I go through my email, I do my report, I do month-end close. There are things we do that are routine, that we just do. It’s what we do in our business world that just keeps the dollars flowing in. We sell appliances or we develop apps and we launch them. It becomes very routine.

When It Becomes a Project

Porterfield ‘2:31’: But when something moves to the elevation of being a project, that’s important. To be a project, it has to meet a couple of criteria. It has to have a start date and an end date. There has to be a time component. We need to get this done. A big one is that there needs to be a specific deliverable, a definable thing, so that when we are done we know what we really accomplished. The third one is a really easy one. That is that it uses resources. But almost everything we do uses resources. I kid my students by saying that me losing 30 pounds is something that needs to happen and it’s a project. But it’s not really a project because there isn’t a start and end date. So it’s not a project. In reality, it’s never going to happen. That’s what we see with organizations. They need to keep the routine going. They need to keeping doing what they do.

Executing projects is how they move the organization forward.

Porterfield ‘3:30’: It’s how they launch that new project, open that new location. For us as individuals, an individual project for us might be to complete a certification, to write that book that you always wanted to write. Projects fit that definition of start and end date, use resources and a definable outcome. They need to be treated differently. There’s a mechanical skill set to project management.

People Skills in Project Management

Porterfield ‘4:00’: There a whole lot of people skills issues that are in project management that in order to get things done that integration has to happen. That’s one of the reason why it earned a place in our list of soft skills.

Graham ‘4:14’: You looked at all of the academic literature you could find to create our list of 55 soft skills. Didn’t you find some researchers who had clearly put project management in the list of soft skills, not technical or hard skills?

Porterfield ‘4:34’: Yes. We didn’t just put it under our list although it’s an area that’s important to us. Studies were done that said project management clearly is a soft skill. Some could make the case that it’s not because in some fields like engineering and some business fields and some IT fields that consider it a hard skill. It’s an important technical skill, and learning how to design a project, to do a Gant chart, that network diagram and time estimates. There’s a mechanical-technical aspect to it, but those technical requirements are not universal across fields. Even within business, where we looked at a lot of Indeed.com job postings, we saw hundreds of occurrences where companies were asking for project management skills specifically specifically across marketing and engineering jobs. Btu still within academic training, when people are earning their degrees, even across engineering, project management does not occur across all engineering disciplines. Even in business, we normally only see it in supply chain management, MIS. We don’t see it in accounting and finance and other areas where it’s a skill that we’re expected to have.

Interconnections

Graham ‘5:47’: We can at this point tell people that they have to accept that project management is a soft skill for the purposes of this podcast and for your own benefit. Thinking of it as a soft skill probably makes it more valuable to you because you can look at it within the context of soft skills and how you interconnect with people, which is really the name of the game anyway. 

Because it’s all well and good that you can manage a project, but if you can’t do it with other people, it’s really going to limit our ability to be effective any organization of any size.

Not Certified, But Still Managing Projects

Porterfield ‘6:23’: We have experienced in actually being project managers while our titles never had that in them. It’s part of what we’ve done in many career opportunities, certainly in our educational/academic careers. We have routine tasks: I have to go in, I have to show up and teach my class, I have to grade assignments, I have to prepare that exam. That’s the routine. I just need to do these things as part of the job I do. It’s what we are expected to do. Porterfield ‘6:53’: If we didn’t do more, if we didn’t develop new curriculum and do new research projects, our organization wouldn’t move forward. We’d be teaching the same thing we were teaching 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago. The business world wold have moved forward and we’d be still using those overhead glassine on the overhead projector. We have seen things change, and we had to convert what we did to this new approach. We had to change what we’re doing. We’re going to introduce new courses, which requires a series of steps. I think we are good where the projects are different, but I think we need to dig in a little bit. We have learned as we do projects that it’s great to know the steps and the process of what has to occur.

It’s the people, the ability to motivate a group of people that makes the difference between a project being successful.

Porterfield 7:54′: Whether it meets that end date, it meets those stated objectives of what it needs to look like, it mostly comes down to getting people to buy-in and do their part.

The Soft Skills Inventory

Graham ‘8:09’: I was just going through all of the soft skills to manage a project. You have to listen, delegate, manage teamwork, lead people, adapt to change, collaborate with others — those are just off the top of my head. So you can see where just being a project manager isn’t just the mechanical aspects of managing a project. We should probably make clear that neither of us believes that project management is just telling people what to do. 

We should be talking to people and looking at what we are trying to achieve together and how to allocate those resources, your time and expertise and my time and expertise, to be the most efficient and effective to achieve that shared goal.

Getting More Resources

Graham ‘9:01’: I always worry that people are going to use these podcasts to say, “Hey, people, do what I say. Clean up your office now.” But it would be better to go to people and say, “Hey, if we all clean our offices before the vice president comes to visit our location, we probably going to look better, and that will mean that the chances of us getting raises and additional resources to do new things is available to us.” That’s the difference and distinction we probably need to make. 

Porterfield ‘9:47’: That’s a great example because projects can be these massive new locations. If it has a start date and end date it’s a project. The boss is coming in two weeks and we need to have this place ready. There’s a date, and what does ready look like. It looks like everything is filed away properly. We can treat small things as projects.

Yes, Project Management Fits Every Group

Porterfield ’10:12′: That brings us to another thing that comes up in our discussion of project management. We have four groupings of the soft skills — Individual soft skills (Episode 5), the Nexus soft skills we use to talk and integrate with another person (Episode 6), and we have the Group soft skills (Episode 7). But we put project management up in the Enterprise skills (Episode 8), which are the highest level of soft skills used by leaders of organizations to lead change. We found in our study of soft skills in job advertisements that individuals were required to have project management skills. But we intentionally moved it to Enterprise. Bob, tell us understand why?

Graham ’11:48′: When we talk about project management, we’re putting it in our Enterprise grouping, which is the grouping where we are at the highest level of leadership within an organization. We are in that strategic area. We are trying to build the vision. We are trying to achieve bigger things. It’s not daily tasks. It’s organizational improvement and organizational change that is our approach. In that area project management is really about allocating resources big and small, and as you are a leader, you have a limited number of resources. You have only so many employees. You have to maximize the use of those employees and also your resources, which are also limited. 

Allocating Effectively

Graham 12:31′: If you are operating a warehouse, you can’t run it more than 24 hours a day. There’s a limit there. Many operations can’t run it more than 8 hours a day or 10 hours a day. Project management when you start to apply those constraints to it becomes more of a leadership issue and less of a low-level, entry-level issue. 

Project management is much more about how an organization is going to use project management to achieve its goals and to grow with the right structure to achieve things in this timeframe.

Graham ’13:12′: For instance, if you are developing a new product. If you are creating a new product, you have a lot of steps. You have to figure out what that product is, how you have to source the materials, your timing for that. Marketing has to be involved. Pricing, finance, shipping, packaging — all those things are part of it. That’s a much higher level than any person that would be in an entry-level job could manage. That’s going to require people at all levels of the organization working together to set deadlines. We need two weeks to get the boxes to put the widget in. And the shipping people might say that if it’s going to take two weeks, that’s going to put it right in the middle of our holiday rush. We cannot do it then. That won’t work. Leaders in the organization have to referee those various concerns and constraints and come up with the best strategy for the overall organization to achieve that goal that they set out on with that new project.

What We Know

Porterfield ’14:13′: Project management is such an interesting area because I do believe that as an individual I should be looking at my work and parsing out what is a project and what needs to be treated differently. It’s very likely a smaller project, but one of the items we have always encountered when studying and teaching project management is there is not a recognition of the value of project management as a technique from the highest levels of the organization, then it’s going to greatly limit our ability to really use project management to launch those big initiatives. That’s also what tipped us over to say that project management is more than just working for the individual. It works with a team and a group. It goes with all three of those groups. But it’s got to be at the Enterprise soft skills level. It has to be alive at the top if it’s really going to have an impact on the organization.

Project management lives at many levels but if it’s not at that top level, we’re really going to have a problem.

Next Week’s Episode 

Graham ’16:05′: Next week, we will address another soft skill and how it fits into our work lives and why it matters to an organization’s growth.