It turns out that what actually separates thriving organizations from struggling ones are the difficult-to-measure attitudes, processes and perceptions of the people who do the work.
Organizations spend a ton of time measuring the vocational skills, because they can. Because theres a hundred years of history. And mostly, because its safe. Its not personal, its business.
We know how to measure typing speed. We have a lot more trouble measuring passion or commitment.
Organizations give feedback on vocational skill output daily, and save the other stuff for the annual review if they measure it at all.
And organizations hire and fire based on vocational skill output all the time, but practically need an act of the Board to get rid of a negative thinker, a bully or a sloth (if hes good at something measurable).
If an employee at your organization walked out with a brand-new laptop every day, youd have him arrested, or at least fired. If your bookkeeper was embezzling money every month, youd do the same thing.
But when an employee demoralizes the entire team by undermining a project, or when a team member checks out and doesnt pull his weight, or when a bully causes future stars to quit the organization too often, we shrug and point out that this person has tenure, or vocational skills or isnt so bad.
But theyre stealing from us.
What can we teach?
Along the way, weve confirmed that vocational skills can be taught (youre not born knowing engineering or copywriting or even graphic design, therefore they must be something we can teach), while we let ourselves off the hook when it comes to decision making, eager participation, dancing with fear, speaking with authority, working in teams, seeing the truth, speaking the truth, inspiring others, doing more than were asked, caring and being willing to change things.
We underinvest in this training, fearful that these things are innate and cant be taught.
We call these skills soft, making it easy for us to move on to something seemingly more urgent.
We rarely hire for these attributes because weve persuaded ourselves that vocational skills are impersonal and easier to measure.
And we fire slowly (and retrain rarely) when these skills are missing, because were worried about stepping on toes, being called out for getting personal, or possibly, wasting time on a lost cause.
Which is crazy, because infants arent good at any of the soft skills. Of course we learn them. We learn them accidentally, by osmosis, by the collisions we have with teachers, parents, bosses and the world. But just because theyre difficult to measure doesnt mean we cant improve them, cant practice them, cant change.
Of course we can.
Lets call them real skills, not soft.
Yes, theyre interpersonal skills. Leadership skills. The skills of charisma and diligence and contribution. But these modifiers, while accurate, somehow edge them away from the vocational skills, the skills that we actually hire for, the skills we measure a graduate degree on.
So lets uncomfortably call them real skills instead.
Real because they work, because theyre at the heart of what we need to today.
Real because even if youve got the vocational skills, youre no help to us without these human skills, the things that we cant write down, or program a computer to do.
Real skills cant replace vocational skills, of course not. What they can do is amplify the things youve already been measuring.
Imagine a team member with all the traditional vocational skills: productive, skilled, experienced. A resume that can prove it.
Thats fine, its the baseline.
Now, add to that: Perceptive, charismatic, driven, focused, goal-setting, inspiring and motivated. A deep listener, with patience.
What happens to your organization when someone like that joins your team?