Lateral Views: The hard way or the soft way?

Seven years and two organizations don’t seem to license me on writing something on performance management in an organization…If you feel so then please take it as a disclaimer. 

Skill sets as we all know are broadly categorized as hard or soft skills. “Hard Skills” are the technical one which completes a job. Even though it is what gets the job done but unfortunately they are pegged as the hygiene capability, the mandatory or the granted ones. Hence it is considered the lesser tools which do not necessarily command exotic stuffs like fast track or star performance. 

Visibility, networking, leadership, collaboration, right attitude, right perspective, alignment with organization goals, societal orientation, etc. or simply put inter-personal skills are what you call “Soft Skills”. Even though they sound vague and global but unfortunately they are supposed to be the more evolved form. They don’t make you complete a task yet they get your job done through others and by the way they are the ones which will take you to the upper deck in the organization hierarchy. 

At the face of it, soft skills seem easy because it is inherent in every human (though in different degree) and because they don’t need a formal education, just a flip of few pages on personal development book can make you learn all the nuances…But to master, they are not so easy (atleast for many) because they are tough to practice or pragmatise it. Unlike hard skills there is almost zilch objectivity and it has a lot of dependency on one of the most subjective and bias thing in this world, human judgment or call it senior management perception… 

Though not a universal rule but the game is that soft skill phase kick starts when people begin to have some other reporting into them or simply when people began to have the luxury of delegating work through their subordinates. The higher people move up the organization hierarchy the higher the need of soft skills. Because as one goes up the decision making tree, job roles becomes more strategic in nature, one needs a macro perspective or in other words it becomes more power point oriented. The main function in this phase is of selling ones strategy to a room filled with suit clad personalities who would in turn look at things even in a wider and more macro perspective. So the soft side has to talk if the power point has to sail through. 

If this is the functioning of an organization…does this mean organization needs to get people who are more skillful in the softer side or it needs to promote people with the softer edge ahead of the hard oriented ones? Or Do I as an employee invest heavily on building my soft skills?

Most organization function this way, hence it might be the right way, but from a lateral angel there can be slippage…and before we proceed please be reminded of the disclaimer in the opening paragraph…

Getting the right formatting or logical conclusion in power point is not difficult, but getting those power points logical at ground is what makes a strategy successful. And to get those power point logical at the ground, one needs to have the ability to see thorough with a bottom-up lens, which in turn needs a sound and strong knowledge of ground realities, ground rules, ground skills, etc. which is the technical know how. 

However, this doesn’t happen most of the time, witness to this is that you would have observed many managers who are dis-endowed with the technicality of the business they managed. And this anomaly happens in because:   

  • Most of the time, the softer skills are so revered that the hard skills are cross subsidized for it.
  • Sometimes, some people just happen to move up from a hard skill phase to a soft skill manager, either by fluke or serendipity or luck or whatever you may call so. 
  • Yet again, sometimes dearth of technical know how among incumbents, results in a technical ignorant Johnny sitting up there.

Is this really an anomaly? At least theoretically. Like in Maslow hierarchy, where human needs has to follow the top-up approach of moving the upper deck only after satisfying the below deck, even here it has to follow similar logic. With barley 2 squarely meals capacity, if one begins to start hunting for esteem or self-actualization need, one is bound to be doomed. The same applies here where in, the base decks are the hard skills and the upper decks are the soft skills. You might jump up from the base deck and start enjoying or doing well in the upper deck, but if the base deck which is your hard skills is not complete people will not appreciate you for long just by the exuberance of your soft skills.

And when this anit-Maslow pyramid happens, it has some hard hitting ramifications –    

  • You being to form strategy based on what top managements wants to see rather then what is good for the business because firstly you yourself came this far through their favor and you better serve what is wanted of you and secondly you don’t have the knowledge to form the right strategy by yourself.
  • When decisions are taken in those meeting room where you are suppose to be the subject matter expert, it is no subjected to feasibility testing because you could never questions nor argue because to contest a point against people above you, you need to have a sound reason which comes with ground knowledge only.
  • This can also lead to Identity dilution because you’re core value or ethos get crowded out slowly by the core value or ethos of those governing you as you become just a messenger and you stop using your decision making faculty. Your thoughts and actions are just a mirror image of your superiors and you become a quasi of those decision maker.
  • Though you might be a fast tracker and people look up to you as their role model, at the same time people began to lose respect because you don’t have a standpoint of yourself. 

Having said everything, there are lots of respected souls who have strong skill sets of both the types and there are still enough people who have hit the pinnacle just by their hard skill and also there are equally large crowd who continues to do well with just their soft skills…

To conclude, it’s just an individual choice, there is no right or wrong decisions…However, there is a ramification for each choice on the organization and also on you as a person!!!

Adios!

Boi

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