“Soft skills” is a phrase that gets banded around a lot these days, especially in the world of work.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “soft skills” (noun) as ‘Personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people’.
So far, so good. Interactions that are “effective” and “harmonious” must be a good starting point.
However, the inclusion of the word “soft” creates a problem because the same dictionary describes “Soft” (adjective) as:
• (Of a person) weak and lacking courage…
• Sympathetic, lenient, or compassionate, especially to a degree perceived as excessive; not strict or sufficiently strict…
• (Informal) foolish; silly…
The use of the word “soft” therefore implies that softly skilled people won’t make difficult decisions and are uncommercial in their approach. Consequently, these attributes are perceived as having less value in business than technical skills, the results of which are relatively easy to measure and evaluate. Soft skills are often seen as a “nice to have”.
Great HR people do their jobs with empathy, compassion and understanding and contrary to what some people may have you believe are not ‘pink and fluffy’. Our priority is to understand the objectives of the businesses we support (even if sometimes we may not agree with them), and help them to find and implement pragmatic solutions. If the interests of one single individual or a group of individuals are incompatible with the best interests of the business, then we do what is necessary to move the business forward.
We may have ‘soft skills’, but that doesn’t make us soft.
Delivering the news that someone’s employment will end is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in business.
A recent case that we worked on was the recommendation and management of the (justifiable) dismissal of a young professional for gross misconduct. This decision almost certainly put an end to a career in which the employee had invested many years of study. It would have been difficult not to have a degree of sympathy for him as he sat pleading to keep his job and the ‘soft’ option would have been to give him another chance. But it wasn’t the right decision for the business so regrettably they parted company.
A similar case a few months ago was slightly more eventful. The process was conducted in exactly the same manner only this time the employee behaved rather more emotionally to the news that his employment was being terminated. He shouted and swore at us (this is quite common), cried (also common), was extremely aggressive (scary) and threw a cup of water across the room (messy). After two hours of diplomatic reasoning we had eventually defused the situation enough to close the meeting. Job done you might think; not quite.
He refused to hand over the keys to his company car and once outside he proceeded to empty the entire contents (visualise boot packed full of company property, documents, folders etc) all over the car park whilst shouting and swearing obscenities. These actions made it somewhat tricky to keep the proceedings confidential, not to mention the difficulty in retrieving the company vehicle.
Again, the ‘soft’ option would have been to give him one final chance, but the employee did not keep his job because the business had to move forward.
HR a bunch of softies … Do you still think so? Contact us using the form on the right if you need expert HR advice or call us on 01604 763494