Getting a grip on mission-critical "soft" skills: 5 simple steps
Effective hiring and staff management aim to maximize the return from your company's human-capital investment and minimize the related financial risks. But obviously, you can't hope to achieve these goals without at least a basic ability to assess the potential of people. In fact, people assessment is as essential a prerequisite for conducting performance reviews, promotions, and succession planning with your existing staff as it is for establishing benchmarks for new hires.
In practice, however, determining the extent of people's technical (or "hard") skills and how they relate to the specific position you're trying to fill is hard enough. But then you have to go still further to analyze their personal and interpersonal competencies (or "soft" skills) as well—skills that are often just as critical to the successful execution of their responsibilities and your business strategy as their mechanical skills but decidedly harder to analyze and quantify.
The problem in based on the fact that, unlike "hard" skills, "soft" skills lie in the more touchy-feely zone of human relations, emotions, and personalities and are thus harder to define. For example, in most hiring scenarios you need to estimate how well you can expect candidates to mesh with your corporate culture, your existing personnel, and the requisite external contacts of their prospective position. In fact, all your staff whose roles relate to people require a higher-than-average ability to maintain successful working relationships, communicate information effectively, interpret and respond appropriately to other people's feelings, and resolve conflicts. In fact, together with your staff's hard skills, these types of soft skills help drive the success of your organization. Hiring the right employees to meet these requirements not only achieves higher levels of productivity and customer satisfaction for your organization, but it also provides employees with economic, psychological, and social rewards in return. In other words, it constitutes a value proposition all around.
Accordingly, with this article, PrintLink would like to suggest a rational system on which hiring managers can base their judgements and decisions regarding the soft skills of job seekers and staff.
The Soft Skills List – A template for printing companies
The following list comprises a general sampling of the soft-skill competencies we believe the printing industry requires for optimal staff performance in the present and into the future. Used judiciously according to the instructions that follow, this list will help you define your requirements for a top performer for each position at your company while still allowing for a diverse mixture of skills and working styles.
(Incidentally, our definition of a top performer, borrowed from Bob Corlett of The Staffing Advisor, is: "someone who is capable of, and interested in, driving the business results you need – someone who will take responsibility for getting results within the norms of your company culture". We like this phrasing because it emphasizes the necessity for staff to operate within a common culture and shared set of goals and sometimes values. We hope each person on your payroll from the most junior to the most senior and everyone inbetween has this kind of productive impact on your business. Certainly, over the past several years, the push for productivity has disciplined most employers to eliminate non-contributing jobs and non-contributing people.)
The Soft Skills List
- Ability to learn from both training & experience plus learning motivation
- Ability & motivation to teach others
- Analytical ability
- Strategic ability to conceptualize & lay out plans
- Capacity for abstract thinking
- Creativity, ability to devise unique solutions
- Decision-making ability
- Mechanical aptitude
- Sound judgement
- Adaptability & versatility
- Ethics & integrity
- Desire to improve own performance
- Strength & steadiness under pressure
- Work-life balance
- Communication skills – oral
- Communication skills – written
- Customer focus
- Emotional intelligence
- Listening skills
- Positive first impression
- Team-playing & collaborative skills
- Ability to coach & provide motivation for others
- Conflict management
- Leadership qualities
- Negotiating skills
Step One - Customize the list for your company
We encourage you to customize the above list to suit your own requirements. There are no absolutes in business and especially not in the printing industry, which is a combination of service and custom manufacturing. And even though commonalties exist between printing and graphics companies and their supply chain, each company can also be completely different from the others for innumerable reasons, thus requiring its own unique set of criteria to delineate the right soft skills and cultural fit.
Step Two – Rank the criteria for each job in your company
Rank the relevance of each of the above soft skills for each job function in your company to show realistically how important it is to the job. We suggest assigning each competency a simple 1-to-5 minimum rating requirement; for instance:
- 5 = essential
- 4 = important
- 3 = helpful
- 2 = nice but unnecessary
- 1 = not applicable
Consider the further example of hiring a cost accountant: first you need to decide whether you want just a compliant bean counter or whether you'd prefer someone with sufficient strategic, creative, and decisive powers to help bolster your entire corporate financial plan. In today's soft job market, you can and should consider the possibility of finding such an experienced strategist and pay the person accordingly if you expect to sustain the value they’ll bring your business.
Step Three- Rank each incumbent & candidate
For each job, next to the minimum rating required for each competency, rate each staff member or job candidate. Also add comments about things like the possibility that a perceived weakness in one area may be offset by a strength in another, or that a particular subject possesses advancement potential.
Important caveat: Before use with actual people, please note that you'll need to combine your customized soft skills list with at least three other essential ingredients:
- A comprehensive understanding of each specific job's requirements as well as a sense of its place in the overall strategic plan for company development. For more information refer to our previous article "Achieve employee excellence with effective job descriptions" at http://members.whattheythink.com/expertrow/051031.cfm.
- The respectful interviewing techniques & selection strategies outlined in our previous article "Assessing job candidates beyond the technical skills" at http://members.whattheythink.com/articles/article.cfm?id=37052 - since you obviously need ways to uncover to what degree each candidate fits or lacks each of the various competencies.
- Your own informed observations & gut instinct (but never rely on either reason or gut alone!)
Step Four - Use profile testing as corroboration
Along with assessing hard skills and knowledge, personal profile testing (or "psychometric" testing) can also assist you with verifying soft skills of candidates in a structured way that makes it difficult for candidates to skew or second-guess the results. Most of our client companies utilize the same commercial system of professional profile tests for their all staff and new hires, so that everyone is profiled the same way, thus facilitating benchmarking and interpersonal synergies among all their staff.
Step Five – Gain Insight from Third Parties
Subcontracting your search and screening of job candidates to a third-party recruiter like PrintLink can go a long way toward helping you quantify candidates' hard and soft skills in the earliest stage of hiring. Not only are we adept interviewers, but also, as an independent third party, we can usually discuss the personal preferences and viewpoints of candidates more openly with them than a prospective employer is able to do. A compatible work environment is just as important to a job seeker as it is to a hiring company; thus many candidates register with us because they feel comfortable about revealing their aspirations and trust us to secure them a good long-term fit in their next job. Both our candidates and client companies have come to recognize that we delve as much into our candidates' ethics, personalities, and future potential to serve a company's strategic plan as their experience and technical qualifications.
Thus, for optimum hiring results, along with the hard job skills required, it's equally important for companies to grasp the more touchy-feely "soft" skills required by their positions and communicate them openly to us.