Work on Soft Skills to Achieve Hard Numbers


With industry mega-deals and micro-analysis of cents-per-share in the limelight from boardrooms to cubicles, the impact of human relations on business can be underestimated. "Soft stuff" some people call it.
Yet, research shows that soft skills in the workplace - intangibles such as effective communications, goodwill, and relationships account for half of companies' financial measure. Hard numbers come to life through customer retention, reduced cost per sale, better word-of-mouth, trust from stakeholders, and improved margins (Connecting). These have their foundation in “soft stuff.”
The implication: just like the business elements of strategy, finance, and sales, the capacity to communicate and relate improves with attention and discipline.  Here are traits that matter:
  • Targeted Visibility: Customers and other stakeholders need to consistently hear what an organization offers, which is way more than just putting messages “out there.” The goal is to get the message squarely in front of the people who will be interested and most inclined to take action.
  •  Thoughtful Preparation: Speeches, presentations, interviews, media, and networking events have opportunity and risk. Time spent considering the audience, collecting the facts, and crafting an artful and compelling story is time spent to be relevant, smart, and prepared. 
  • Connections Out and Up: An external focus builds overall business capital. Like all people, executives respond favorably, gain confidence in, and support people whose communication and relationship skills stand out. 
  •  Momentum: Employees, board members, and others associated with an organization continuously absorb the messages they see and hear and behaviors they observe. Well-executed communications and attention to relationships will likely be reflected and reinforced by an organization’s stakeholders.    
What builds quality communications and relationships?  I see five tenets that give individuals and organizations command of their image and future. Think of them as talking points that are a sound checklist:    
  1. Consistency: Important interactions rarely occur well on the fly. Instead, key communications and relationships deserve and benefit from planning and repetition with minimal gaps and bumps. 
  2. Context: No two people or audiences are created equal. Consider and refine what will be said or done from the viewpoint of the person or people who are the relationship targets.    
  3. Coordination: Scattershot communications are just noise. Confusing.  Instead, define all audiences who need to receive the same impressions. How will it happen?  When? By whom? Will sales-and-service have the same understanding? 
  4. Connection: Flashy communications can get attention, but eye and ear candy do not nourish the best relationships. Communications with staying power are those where a genuine need and connection happen.  
  5. Care: Exercising the first four tenets lead logically to genuine care about a target audience. Daniel Pink, in To Sell is Human, describes the change from a solely self-centered end game to something more: move from upsell to upserve. "Upserving means doing more for the other person than he expects or you initially intended."
Do you really hear what others say? Are you being accountable?  Open?  Then you’re rounding the bases and on your way to a human relations’ home run. 
Work on soft skills development, and tackle the so-called “soft stuff” of communications and relationships to increase the odds of achieving the hard results that you desire.
Connecting Marketing Metrics to Financial Consequences. Accessed April 17, 2017.
Pink, Daniel. To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2012.

About the Author
Scott Carlberg leads strategic corporate and nonprofit public affairs initiatives, highlighting corporate departmental turnarounds and catalytic special projects. He has experience in the full range of public affairs, such as video, media, e-communications, live events, specialized venues for highly targeted audiences, human resources, and strategic planning. He leads Talking Points, LLC - Public Affairs Management. Previously Carlberg was director of communications for a global research organization, the Electric Power Research Institute. He has also worked for Duke Energy and Phillips Petroleum; and was President of E4 Carolinas, a two-state energy industry trade association. He is based in Charlotte.