Hey, Techies, Want to Get Ahead? Work on your Soft Skills.

Hey, Techies, Want to Get Ahead? Work on your Soft Skills.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen’s results shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) expertise came in dead last. The project found that the seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills:

  • Serving as a good coach
  • Communicating and listening well
  • Possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view)
  • Showing empathy toward and support for one’s colleagues
  • Demonstrating good critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Making connections across complex ideas.

Technical (“hard”) skills are important in many job roles. However, proficiency in hard skills alone may result in miscommunication, poor teamwork, and missed insights that can cause a project—and business—to fail. Take one soft skill, as example. David Grossman, an award-winning communications consultant, surveyed 400 companies with 100,000 employees and found an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and among employees. If you take just the Fortune 500, this totals to a staggering $31.2 billion for what many consider the world’s leading businesses.

Even when the need for interpersonal skills training is evident, many organizations fail to address it. One study found that while CFOs state that poor interpersonal skills are the top reason for an employee’s failure to advance in the company, more than four of five of these CFOs are far more likely to offer training in more technical categories (accounting, finance, or information technology) than in soft skills. And the need for better soft skills training doesn’t stop in the finance department. The lack of strong interpersonal and self-managing skills can affect many employees’ advancement. A recent report by iCIMS Hiring Insights finds that 94% of recruiting professionals 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.

It’s not just employees climbing the corporate ladder who may be held back due to inadequate soft skills. The Career Advisory Board survey shows the lack of certain soft skills impact employees at all levels, but according to the respondents, lower paid employees are more vulnerable. Seventy-one percent of participants said individual contributors, or frontline employees, don’t have the necessary soft skills, while 63% find soft skills gaps in their supervisor population, and only 45% see them at the executive level.

Some of the country’s fastest-growing roles—sales development, customer experience and success, hospitality and other service industries—largely rely on employees with strong soft skills. So, if you lack robust soft skills training, what are you waiting for?

Larry Bograd is Senior Director, Product Development at Syntrio, Inc. He is a twenty-year veteran of the training industry, serving as a learning consultant, director of content strategy, senior instructional designer, and scriptwriter. At Syntrio, he directs its Business Skills Library. He may be reached at lbograd@syntrio.com.

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