When I look back on my career, I wouldn’t change a thing. My journey has had more twists and turns than Chubby Checker (dated analogy – look him up, Millennials!). I’m grateful to those who have believed in me and helped me along the way.
I’ve been with successful companies and not-so-successful companies. I’ve experienced a variety of different cultures. I believe that culture is everything when it comes to business success.
Few would argue that hiring people with skills is of the utmost importance. Then, when an employee lacks the skills to perform their job at a high level, training is also critical. Years ago, “the experts” professed that skills should be divided into HARD SKILLS like reading, math, and science, and SOFT SKILLS like communication, empathy, and emotional awareness. This resulted in a perception that hard skills were more important than soft skills.
In the past, companies could focus on the hard skills, neglect the soft skills and get away with it. This was especially prevalent in public companies. After all, they had shareholders scrutinizing their every move. In many cases, executives got caught up in pleasing shareholders and overlooked culture and training. They defaulted to a command and control mentality that seemed to work when they were part of the rank and file, besides who had the time to focus on the soft stuff when angry shareholders were nipping at their heels. This approach filtered down through the organization. The common refrain was, “If my boss is doing it, why can’t I?”
Then something happened on the way to increased profitability. It was a seismic shift in the landscape. Boomers were aging and retiring. Gen Y and Z were infiltrating the workplace. This created an entirely different challenge for supervisors who were deficient in soft skills.
The age diversity in the current workforce is the widest ever. It is now common for organizations to have employees who represent four to five generations working side-by-side:
- Silent Generation (Traditionalists) born 1928-1945
- Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964
- Gen X – born 1965-1980
- Gen Y (Millennials) – born 1981-1996
- Gen Z – born 1997-2012
Studies show that each generation shares its own distinct view of the world. Currently, Millennials are a primary focus for business leaders. They’ve been referred to as the WHY generation because of their insatiable need to know why. This group grew up with “mouse-in-hand” while cell phones evolved into handheld supercomputers. They entered the workforce feeling comfortable asking why because they could easily verify the validity of a given strategy by “Googling It.”
As the Millennials continue to establish themselves, they have been outspoken about culture, fairness, and diversity in the workplace. I can’t give Millennials all the credit, but they championed much of today’s social reform. They continue to shed light on the need for business leaders to become aware that “the whole person comes to work.”* In other words, supervisors must demonstrate a certain level of compassion when employees struggle professionally and in their personal lives. Gen Y workers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.** Managers can’t just teach; they must understand how each employee learns and how they prefer to be managed. Telling is no longer effective. It’s now about listening, collaborating, and caring.
The pendulum began to swing in the right direction years ago. Visionary business leaders busted out of the old paradigm and realized that soft skills are not only as necessary as hard skills but critical to bottom-line profitability. It’s time to stop labeling skill types and emphasize all skills equally.
Thank you for reading my blog. As always, I look forward to your comments!
*Susan Fawcett, Founder and CEO of Coaching Insight Out coined the phrase, “We hire for the position, and the whole person comes to work.” Susan is the most intelligent person I know, and she just happens to be my wife!
**The legendary Zig Ziglar, Godfather of the Self Help Industry, referred to this phrase early and often.