Review: Bridging the Soft Skills Gap by Bruce Tulgan
This review first ran in the Nov. 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
By Bruce Tulgan
It’s not entirely your fault that you frustrate some of your older co-workers.
After all, you were raised by helicopter parents on steroids.
You went to schools that treated you more like a customer than a student.
You grew up a digital native, with smart phones and social media changing how you think and communicate.
And with all these Baby Boomers retiring and young talent in short supply, you were wined, dined and signed for your technical skills with no questions asked about your soft skills.
So we shouldn’t be shocked if you sometimes confuse your boss with a surrogate parent whose prime directive is to serve, praise, shelter, amuse and spare you from thankless tasks and daily grinds.
Gen Zers are the ultimate non-conformists in an age of non-conformism, says author Bruce Tulgan about the 20-somethings now joining the workforce.
“Trying to make the adjustment to ‘fitting in’ in the very real, truly high-stakes, mostly adult world of the workplace is a whole new game for them,” says Tulgan, the founder and CEO of a management research and training firm who’s interviewed thousands of managers about young employees. “And it’s not really their kind of game. They are less inclined to try to ‘fit in’ at work, and more inclined to try to make this ‘whole work thing’ fit in with them.”
Good luck with that. Ignoring the soft skills gap does no favours for Gen Zers or their employers. Failing to close the gap can derail careers and cripple organizations.
“When employees have significant gaps in their soft skills, there are significant negative consequences,” warns Tulgan. “Potentially good hires are overlooked. Good hires go bad. Bad hires go worse. Misunderstandings abound. People become distracted. Productivity goes down. Mistakes are made. Customer service suffers. Workplace conflicts occur more frequently. Good people leave when they might have otherwise stayed longer.”
Tulgan slots soft skills into three categories.
- Professionalism, which includes soft skills like self-evaluation, personal responsibility, a positive attitude, good work habits and people skills.
- Critical thinking, with the essential soft skills of proactive learning, problem solving and decision-making.
- Followership, built on key behaviors of respect for context, citizenship, service and teamwork.
“Show me an organization with a strong, positive corporate culture and I will show you an organization that is very clear about exactly which soft skill behaviors are high priority and sings about those high priority behaviors from the rooftops often.”
So how do organizations with a default-defined culture close the growing gap in soft skills?
Employers need to clearly define their mission-critical soft skills and then walk the talk, says Tulgan. “What are the high priority behaviors that are most important? Crucial to success? Or jet fuel for competitive differentiation? Make them the foundation of your culture. Focus on them relentlessly and systematically drive those behaviors in all your human capital management practices.”
That means hiring for soft skills. Developing those skills in both your new hires and veterans. Promoting and rewarding employees who exhibit those skills and cutting loose those who don’t.
“The fastest way to turn a mediocre performer into a low performer is to leave that person alone without any guidance, direction, support or coaching,” says Tulgan. “Your job is to lift up all those employees and help them do more work – faster and better every step of the way. Not just because that’s good for business but also because continuous improvement is the key to keeping Gen Zers focused and motivated.”
Drawing from best practices at employers that value and know how to develop soft skills, Tulgan offers up lesson plans for teaching the missing basics of professionalism, critical thinking and followership.
“Just imagine the impact you could have if you were to spend time every week systematically building up the soft skills of your team,” says Tulgan. “You would send a powerful message, week by week. You would make them aware. You would make them care. You would help them learn the missing basics one by one – one exercise at a time. You would build them up and make them so much better.”