Essential skills are often the least understood of employee’s and leaders’ skill sets. They are called “essential” because their definitions and metrics are vague and nebulous. They lack rigid answers typically associated with the math, science, and engineering fields.
Why are essential skills misunderstood?
In many cases, it is simply from not understanding things that we can’t quantify. While companies can easily measure skills such as accounting accuracy or chemical knowledge, or even how well a job applicant can drive a fork lift, it is much more difficult to measure essential skills. Testing employees’ soft skills can’t be done with simple assessments such as those used to check someone’s ability to add a string of numbers. We could easily grade the accuracy and the speed of their addition.
However, no one has invented a professionalism formula or a customer service algorithm. Even when this has been attempted, the “formula” and “algorithm” are highly subjective, unlike the obviously objective calculator. In other words, a soft skill type question such as, “What is the best way to train a new employee?” will yield a variety of correct answers where as the answer to, “What is the molecular weight of gold?” only has one correct answer.
So which is more important
Like all great essential skills related questions, the answer is, “it depends”. In the workplace, it usually depends on the specific role that employee plays in the organization. For instance, a chemical engineer would probably place a higher priority on more concrete skills such as the chemical properties of various metals, whereas a sales manager would likely place more emphasis on essential skills like customer service and leadership. And leaders in any organization need both technical skills and the essential skills necessary for leading their team and communicating effectively with clients.
Does that mean that essential skills and more concrete skills are mutually exclusive?
In other words, are we forced to choose one or the other when evaluating job candidates or current employees? Thankfully, the answer is no, we don’t. While some people may lean one way or the other, most people exhibit both types of skills. In fact, many positions require a combination of both soft skills and more concrete skills. For example, the most successful bank tellers have the measurable skill of counting and adding numbers as well the soft skills of customer service. This is why smart business leaders are increasingly valuing both soft skills and concrete skills.
Luckily, empowering alternatives are available to those who want to improve their soft skills. Just as an employee’s proficiency in computer programming or engine assembly can be increased, so too can we increase employee proficiency with soft skills. Experienced soft skills consultants at the Rothschild Corporation can work with your organization to effectively develop and increase the essential skills proficiency of your managers and employees.