Soft Skills and Hard Skills: The Perfect Match

An essential software upgrade falls apart because your team fails to work together. Conflict arises and the blame game gets underway. You’ve given your your technical workers world-class coding training, so why aren’t they be better communicators and collaborators? In today’s economy, superior technical skills are not enough to ensure your organization’s success.

The critical importance of interpersonal skills, or “soft skills,” has become a much-discussed topic among academics and business leaders. Sociologists Philip Moss and Chris Tilly define soft skills as “skills, abilities, and traits that pertain to personality, attitudes and behavior rather than to formal or technical knowledge.” Communication, empathy, teamwork, creativity, flexibility, and listening are all essential competencies which employers need —and yet finding candidates and employees with these competencies is an ongoing challenge.

The Case for Soft Skills
A recent survey of over a decade of Google’s HR data concluded that STEM expertise is one of the least important qualities of Google’s top employees. The seven top characteristics of success are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem-solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. Other studies report similar trends: A recent report by iCIMS Hiring Insight  finds that 94% of recruiters believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.

The Soft Skills Gap
According to a survey by Adecco Staffing, 92 percent of senior executives in the U.S. acknowledge there is a serious gap in workforce skills: 44 percent of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap. In fact, only 22 percent cited a lack of technical skills as the culprit for the U.S. skills gap. In an interview with CNBC, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner noted, “[I]nterpersonal skills is where we're seeing the biggest imbalance. Communications is the No. 1 skills gap across major cities in the United States.”

The Importance of Soft Skills Training
Organizations would be well served by developing soft skills among their new hires and current employees. There are a variety of ways to make soft skills a priority in the workplace, from making them part of performance assessments, to setting goals incorporating soft skills, to modeling the same skills in workplace interactions. In addition, online microlearning is a natural fit for employees motivated to improve their communication and other soft skills. According to the LinkedIn report mentioned earlier, “The modern employee wants to take time to learn when they’re in the office. They want opportunities to learn at their own pace and to access learning at the point of need.”

And So…
Many business leaders already know that who an employee is is just as important as what an employee can do. As former Porsche CEO Peter Schutz put it, “Hire character. Train skill.” Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson adds: “We look for people who are friendly and considerate, and who like working with others.” In the end, it’s not a competition between soft skills and hard skills, it’s about recognizing that an employee with both skill sets has greater potential, potential not even a robot could outmatch.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Bribery Indictment…

Something unusual and surprising happened last week in the corporate compliance world.

A company’s two senior leaders were charged with a foreign bribery scheme and—at the same time—the company itself was exonerated. If you’ve been following the case of Cognizant Technology Solutions, Corp., you’re perhaps also surprised by this turn of events.

The short story: In April, 2014 the company’s president and chief legal officer (and compliance head) were charged with a $2 million bribery scheme to promote construction of its corporate campus in India.

Typically, when bribery is detected, a government regulator charges a company’s senior executives with criminal conduct while, at the same time, also pursuing charges against the company for aiding and abetting the crime, hiding it or obscuring it revelation. Then, a long, drawn out process might unfold of investigation, litigation and sanctioning to bring the company to heel for the misdeeds of its executives and itself.

But, a company can sometimes escape such charges if it can demonstrate that it took steps to reinforce compliance, as we know from a case involving Morgan Stanley when Hong Kong executives were charged with bribery related to internships for customers’ family members in exchange for business.

Similarly, in Cognizant’s case, the company escaped criminal charges just as two of its senior leaders were being charged. Where it gets interesting is that two weeks after the company uncovered this scheme, it notified the authorities and assisted with the investigation.

A lot of things have to go right for a company to take the following actions:

  • Uncover a bribery scheme involving the president and senior legal officer (perhaps the two people most able to hide such a scheme)
  • Avoid interference by these two executives that could have sidetracked an internal investigation.
  • Avoid the propensity to “lawyer up” to protect the company from the threat of possibly aggressive regulators looking to make an example of the company.
  • Decide to report the scheme to authorities two weeks after identifying it.
  • Offer assistance to the authorities to help investigate the scheme.
  • Agree to pay some $24 million in disgorgement and penalties for a $2 million bribery scheme

This makes one wonder just what was going on within this company for its leadership at that time to take such bold actions:

  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of what constitutes signs of foreign bribery at the executive level.
  • Show willingness to take on both the company’s then-president and chief legal officer.
  • Be ready to buck the trend of turning inward to protect the company with a layer of lawyers and court filings.
  • Be willing to trust regulators’ possible willingness to provide leniency to companies that disclose, assist and disgorge.

It's a rare case for a company’s remaining leadership to take such prompt, assertive, responsible actions as Cognizant’s did. The likelihood is that these actions did not occur on the spur of the moment with senior leadership quickly ‘finding religion’ in the face of confusion and substantial challenges. What’s more likely, the leadership that wasn’t involved in the bribery scheme had a clear understanding of wrongdoing, stout conviction about the right course of action, sturdy moral courage to take the right steps when many others would have thought first of self-protection, and unfettered belief that regulators would treat the company judiciously.

Despite the involvement of the company’s compliance lead in the bribery, one wonders just what sort of culture of integrity existed among the rest of leadership? And what steps does such a company take to instill such a culture within these top leaders to motivate them to act responsibly in the face of such a challenging situation?

The US Justice Department indicated its refusal to charge the company was due to: "Cognizant’s prompt voluntary self-disclosure, cooperation and remediation, as well as Cognizant’s disgorgement to the Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of the cost savings that resulted from the bribery scheme."

In the end, something unusual and surprising happened: The remaining leaders were right, they did right, and, as a result, they and their company were treated accordingly.

Good Training Gone Bad: Oregon Harassment Training Session Leaves Black Mark on EEOC

According to a February 15, 2019 report published by the Statesman Journal, representatives from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) met with a number of Oregon state legislators in a February 14 three-hour “listening session” requested by the Oregon officials after an EEOC training session left several legislative staffers and other learners with concerns about the approach taken by the EEOC trainers during the session completed the first week of February 2019.

According to the Statesman Journal report, several staffers felt the trainers used overly inappropriate language and failed to take concerns about prior incidents at the State Capitol to heart when conducting the training. Specifically, staff members alleged that the trainer came to the Capitol without prior information about specific incidents that had occurred in that workplace in recent years. Staff also complained the trainer encouraged victims not to report incidents of sexual harassment for fear of developing a reputation as “tattlers” and potentially becoming victims of retaliation.

A certain degree of the material that must be taught and discussed is unquestionably going to be uncomfortable and controversial at times. It is important to remember that federal and state equal employment agencies frequently send their own attorneys to conduct training sessions, whether as a mandatory component of conciliation or as a penalty imposed following an investigation of workplace misconduct. These individuals, while undoubtedly highly skilled attorneys are not always preventative practice professionals with years of experience providing harassment training to organizations of all sizes.

An expert in harassment prevention education would be inclined to audit the culture and history of harassment within an organization to determine whether his or her scenarios and activities are sensitive to the particular issues that organization may seek to prevent and/or rectify. Although the best case scenario is a training program does not offend, as the EEOC would undoubtedly attest to following its recent situation with the Oregon State Legislature, it is impossible to predict when an employee or group of employees will take offense to a given scenario or line of questioning.

All of the issues the EEOC has faced in the past two weeks should not place a black mark on their efforts to ensure that companies and public officials receive training on these important concepts. Likewise, it is impossible to craft a training program aimed at preventing sensitive topics and ensure that the sensibilities and uncomfortability of all employees cannot ever be breached. However, if the allegations that the EEOC trainer suggested that victims of harassment should not report incidents due to fear of being labeled a “tattler” are true, then there are serious concerns with the EEOC’s program and facilitators as a whole that must be addressed internally.

Syntrio takes the utmost care in crafting a continuum of learning that is engaging, thought provoking, sensitive to workplace culture and aimed at ensuring employees are comfortable bringing concerns of any kind to the attention of management and leadership. Syntrio also takes great care to staff experts in employment law that have dedicated careers to the prevention of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We strive to change your culture for the better and to also provide training that will leave your workforce feeling educated and motivated rather than scared and intimidated.