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Soft Skills Development for Managers and Business Schools as Service Providers

22 August 2019


Corporate research is suggesting very strongly that soft skills development in managers should not be dismissed lightly. This blog discusses this finding and reports on some interesting and important corporate research and discusses the role of Business Schools in providing soft skills development to management students.


Research at Google

The findings of research studies by companies such as Google into high performing teams, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/20/the-surprising-thing-google-learned-about-its-employees-and-what-it-means-for-todays-students/ advances the premise  that soft skills are the critical variables that makes the difference regards separating poor to average performing teams from high performing teams. For example at Google, following an extensive research project called 'Project Oxygen’ the research team identified that the seven top catalysts for team success at Google were the following soft skills:

  1. having strong coaching skills
  2. communicating and listening well
  3. highly developed perceptual skills
  4. having strong empathy capabilities
  5. being a good critical thinker
  6. possessing collaborative problem-solving skills
  7. being able to adopt systems thinking to see the complexity in ideas across systems

The findings of project oxygen were summed up regards their importance by author Anant Agarwal: "Market trends, insights from top business leaders and industry data all point to one thing; soft skills are important and should not be overlooked. The next generation of workers, executives, and leadership will need to have a hybrid skill set balancing an understanding of hard skills with 'power skills'." https://lnkd.in/g36X7nD   

Interestingly the author re-frames soft skills as power skills, thus emphasising the high importance of soft skills as catalysts for influence and performance in individuals and in teams. 

Research into Future Job Skills by The World Forum

Further, the study into future job skills by the WorldForum http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/skills-stability/ identified that 'active listening', 'self-reflection' and 'critical thinking' were important leadership skills; as were influencing skills and emotional intelligence capabilities. The researchers point out that; " Overall, social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. ​​​​“ Once again highlighting the importance of soft skills development for future leaders. It is also useful to bear in mind that mastering such skills does not need to be left to chance if they were included in mainstream business school education along with traditional hard skills development.

Research by IBM Making Change Work

In addition, an important study by a research team at IBM  explored differences in how change was implemented by over 1,500 global change practitioners including project leaders, sponsors, project managers and change managers from many global operating organizations file:///C:/Users/David/Downloads/Making_Change_Work_eff%20(1).pdf   also highlighted soft skills and related soft change leadership challenges as important. The most important skills that the IBM team identified to lead successful change were the ability to understand and work with cultural change  with 49 % of respondents citing this to be one of  the most significant challenges when managing change, whilst 58% of respondents identified changing  mindsets and attitudes as the most significant change management tasks.

The IBM research team stated that: "Surprisingly, it turns out the “soft stuff” is the hardest to get right. Changing mindsets, attitudes and culture in an organization typically require different techniques, applied consistently and over time – sometimes across a series of successive projects and closing the change gap 13 often continuing after the formal “project” has finished. Practitioners typically find such fewer concrete challenges tougher to manage and measure than challenges related to business processes or technology, which are more tangible and possibly capable of being changed permanently through a single intervention." The need for applying specific soft skills techniques and for the systematic daily practice of these techniques was highlighted by the research team as having significant importance.

The Role of Business Schools

Business Schools throughout the world are increasingly competing for students. Most business schools offer a curriculum that is broadly based on hard skills. These include analytical problem solving and emphasise cognitive exercises. And yes, employers want candidates with these skills. However, as the research is telling us, employers also want candidates with proven and reliable soft skills. If a student can access a business school that offers a balanced curriculum emphasising both soft and hard skills, then this may also provide the business school a source of competitive advantage. Interestingly, The Chartered Association of Business Schools acknowledges the merits of integrating soft skills training into the broader academic curriculum. Indeed, some business schools are pioneering approaches such as making the development of soft skills compulsory modules.

However, it remains a fact that soft skills development is often overlooked in many business school curriculums and this is unfortunate. It is clear that management and leadership talent do need a balanced skill set between soft and hard skills and the question emerges; where do the students learn these skills? Well the hard element is pretty much an established part of business school learning materials; however this is not the same with soft skills development. This aspect of learning needs remodelled. It needs to be packaged in training programmes that are grounded in research and experience led by trainers who can work with experientially based learning models whilst also drawing upon productive and relevant theories.


Closing Comments

The strategy of 'Praxis' is useful here which involves a learning approach that is driven by theory yet is experientially grounded in practical engagement exercises. One cannot detach soft skills development from the actual practice of social engagement in its many forms. Thus we need a sociology of soft skills and a rich catalogue of methods to teach the practical application of these methods. As a developer of such soft skills training solutions and having spent 25 years in management and I am absolutely certain that the hard skills which refer to a person’s and ability to perform a task, job, or activity; i.e. technical skills are important yet mastering soft skills , intra and interpersonal skills are the difference that makes the difference in building collaborative teams. At the Cultural Change Company we specialise in teaching management students’ soft skills that complement the hard skills they are being taught at Business Schools. You may check out our soft skills training courses at https://lnkd.in/gwPvAqU . We have thoughtfully designed a content rich course which specifically addresses the core emotional, behavioural, and cognitive self-management skills required to fully realise the management and leadership potential of emerging talent in an organisation. This course accelerates line managers’ soft people skills. #BusinessSchools, #MBA, #LeadershipDevelopment, #SoftSkills, #CulturalChange