During my graduate studies, I volunteered at the local United Way on a project inventorying employable skills of job candidates. The program was impactful and had a high rate of success matching prospective job seekers with organizations seeking to hire.
Surprisingly, a few months into the program employers started contacting the office asking to scale back their involvement in the program. Perplexed, colleagues reached out to participating companies to inquire why their appetite had waned. It turned out that many employees, almost 90%, were doing great work, adding value and supporting the goals of their employer. Yet, of this cohort, a portion also lacked consistency in showing up for work and communicating effectively with their managers. It wasn't the employee's product that was the problem, rather the intervening steps in communication, image, and perception. There was a 'soft skills' deficit.
Now, I understand the temptation to argue that 'soft skills' pertain to fixed employer/employee relationships and are not transferable across corporate cultures. However, recently published research surrounding reference feedback compiled by SkillSurvey, Inc. determined that the three positive qualities most often mentioned by references about employees were dependability, detail orientation, and effective team communication. Conversely, this research, which mined more than 44,000 words received on reference reporting, also concluded that the three categories most often listed for employee improvement were confidence, knowledge, and communication.
This research spotlights the implicit value of perception in relationships (more to come in a future post). How we perceive ourselves at work is often not aligned with how others interpret our value to the organization. Although we may believe we are the best at performing our assigned task, which may carry truth, our manager might not believe our greatest asset is the fulfillment of our daily tasks, but rather, the process we undertake when completing tasks. This person is responsive, likable, and communicates clearly is different than this person is the best at task X or project Y.
I would encourage you to take 5-10mins out of your day and inventory your 'soft skills'. If punctuality is important in your role, do you show up on time? If responsiveness is key, are you answering emails and questions in a timely manner? Improving our soft skills can be the quickest and least expensive use of social capital when improving our value for others in the workplace.