As Hiring Gets Harder, Think Soft

Eric Chester, Founder

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Try this 60-second experiment before reading on: Using a blank sheet of paper and a pen, make a list of the adjectives that you would include if you were to post a job description for an entry-level position in one of your stores. (There is no trick to this task; don’t overthink it.) You have a one-min­ute limit, so keep an eye on the clock.

Ready, set, go!


Upon completion, you should be staring at a list of six to 10 adjectives.

Next, take your pen and put an S next to each adjective on your list that you consider a soft skill (i.e., a personal characteristic or value) and an H next to each that is a hard skill (one that is either a required skill for a position in your organization or an integral part of your employee training program).

I would wager a pretty penny that your list is composed primarily, if not exclusively, of S’s with words such as responsible, honest, punctual, dedicated, enthusiastic, positive, professional, team player, etc.

Why am I willing to bet?

Several years ago, I began incorporat­ing this activity into my live presenta­tions to business owners, managers, and executives. Regardless of the company or industry involved, the similarity of responses is uncanny; in fact, most lists appear as if they’ve been written by the same person.

Every leader insists on having their team composed of people who possess these soft skills, but you won’t hear them using that term. “Soft skills” has become a catchall, nebulous, squishy term that implies that these traits that are nice but not essential, when it clearly represents the exact opposite.

Operating under the false assump­tion that every job applicant has been taught these essential values at home or somewhere else before they entered the job market (circa 1960) paves the way for “any port in a storm” hiring practices and inefficient “one size fits all” train­ing programs that are focused almost entirely on hard skills. No wonder poor performance, lousy customer service, high absenteeism and rapid turnover are rampant.

It’s Your Choice

When it comes to your business, charac­ter, work ethic and soft skills are synony­mous; they are necessities, not luxuries. Review your list of adjectives and elimi­nate any that are negotiable. Then realize that you have only two choices when making every personnel decision:

1. Hire the S’s: Even though the cul­ture they’ve grown up in fights against it, there still remain young talented people who possess the character you’ve described on your list. You undoubtedly have a few already working for you. They are in short supply and high demand, so work hard to acknowledge, appreciate and retain them. Then actively recruit their friends. Also, do some detective work on the applications and the inter­view notes of your high-character S employees because it will reveal clues about where others like them can be found. By consistently doing the extra work that your competitors are too lazy to do, you will draft a team they can’t possibly match.

2. Train the S into Them: Astound­ingly, most organizations do nothing to develop the soft skills of their employ­ees. Naively assuming that parents and teachers have instilled the required character and work ethic into their new hires, managers begin onboarding these new hires with some paperwork, an ori­entation and a mind dump of skills-only training.

If your training program does nothing more to train soft skills than mention them along with the rules and regulations in your employee handbook (e.g., be on time, always smile at guests and go out of your way to make them feel special, don’t give your employee discount to friends and family, etc.), you can’t expect them to be internalized and demonstrated.

Invest the time and resources to develop character, work ethic and soft skills into your front-line associates. This won’t happen overnight, so don’t think of this as something that you can do once and cross off your list. Instead, commit to integrating some degree of soft-skills training into your regular training regimen, and the results will astound you.

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