I’m writing this column two days following the completion of the 2010 NACS annual convention in Atlanta. I’d like to share an observation. There were lots of great educational workshops covering important industry topics, such as food service, technology, consumer trends, category management, operations and human capital, to name a few. The workshops were well attended, many standing room only, with the exception of the human capital workshops. The human capital workshops drew decent crowds, mainly human resource and training personnel. But in comparison with the other workshops, the human capital workshops were the least attended, particularly by upper management. In my experience this is nothing new. So why is this? In my opinion, management, in most cases tend to focus on higher-end matters, like operations (hard skills), not the human component (soft skills). Here’s the irony - it’s the human component (people) that’s responsible for operations yet rarely receive the same level of attention and commitment.
Two Sides of the Same Coin:
When it comes to achieving business success, I’d like you to consider a two-sided coin as an analogy; one side hard skills (operations) and the other side soft skills (people). One without the other will limit your company’s ability to achieve optimal performance. Sadly, the people side of the coin has always been the cost minimization piece of the equation. Lots of money is invested on the front-end; operations-based, in an effort to increase profitability and gain a competitive advantage. But when it comes to maximizing and protecting that investment, the people responsible for implementation and execution, companies fall short. Fortune magazine reported that fifty percent of CEO failure is due to poor people skills, not operations. The CEO’s reported in the Fortune study possessed operational excellence, which is what propelled them to CEO. But when it came to inspiring and uniting their employees (soft skills) to achieve organizational success, they failed. To add insult to injury, are those organizations that pay lip service to the people side of the coin. You know what I’m talking about, phrases like, “Our people are our greatest asset,” yet make no effort, financial or otherwise to ensure their “people” are prepared to succeed. This is how cynicism creeps into organizations and erodes trust.
Soft Skills ROI:
Whenever the phrase “soft skills” is mentioned, management has a tendency to roll their eyes and cringe because they think they’re going to be asked to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. In fairness to management, they’re skeptical to invest in soft skill initiatives because they don’t see the return. Human resource and training departments have not done a good job of demonstrating how soft skill investments can help achieve desired business results. Management clearly understands how much soft skill initiatives cost the company. What management doesn’t have a good handle on is how their soft skill investments have improved business results. Business results like sales, customer service and employee retention. If human resources and training departments want to advance their people agenda, and obtain management buy-in, they must develop the business case that supports their cause. This business case must be developed in management terms and language, not human resources or training. Management language like investment, ROI, metrics, strategic alignment, sustainability, differentiation and competitive advantage.
Best-in-class organizations think holistically by committing themselves to both sides of the coin: operations and people (hard and soft skills). Ignoring the people side of the equation is like having a high-performance NASCAR vehicle (operational strategy) with a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle engine. You’ll be able to drive the car alright, but you’ll never achieve optimal performance that the NASCAR vehicle was designed to achieve. What a waste of money!