Why soft skills are not easy

The word “hard” can be the opposite of “soft” or the opposite of “easy.” It makes sense then that in many people’s minds “soft skills” are seen as “easy skills.” However, basic logic and high school math tells us that this assumption is flawed — and Australian companies are about to get a huge reality check on just how “hard” it is to master these “soft skills.”

Culture has suddenly shot into focus for company directors, as society’s expectations have increased and solid proof of how culture impacts the bottom line has emerged. ASIC is leading the charge with plans to incorporate firm culture into its risk based surveillance review of company conduct.

Companies need to examine their conduct and internal culture to assess how well they are doing. Once-a-year culture surveys, with results released three or more months after completion, are just no longer cutting it. Company leaders need to know how they are performing in real time and, most importantly, demonstrate to employees that they will take action to rectify issues which are raised before the rot sets in. Some companies will receive a rude awakening that their culture and conduct aren’t up to scratch and need to look inwards – the aforementioned article reports that poor conduct companies lose 50% of their value over a five-year period, whilst high conduct companies doubled in value.

For far too long, “soft skills” such as communication, engagement, and interpersonal skills – all central to a company’s culture — have been ignored or glossed over in company transformations and key projects. This may be because people thought that these things were easy and that “everyone can do them.” As a result, there is little meaningful training available to improve these skills.

Another reason soft skills are glossed over is that they are difficult to truly measure in comparison to, for example, financial metrics and hence, not measured at all. And, as conventional wisdom tells us, you only get what you measure. Moreover, these “soft skills” require difficult conversations when providing feedback to individuals who are not executing well.

Taken in combination, all this means that soft skills are undervalued. This comes to the fore when employees observe their organisation keeping (or even worse, promoting) individuals who behave in ways that contradict the desired culture simply because they “hit their numbers” or are “in with the execs.”

What can organisations do to improve culture?

The time for excuses is over and there is a pressing imperative to take action. Organisations need to realise that culture – or “the way things work around here” – is important. Every action they take reinforces that culture. They need to be cognisant of what they do and the impact it has (intended or not). Organisations will also need to define what a “good culture” is for both their employees and their customers.

Savvy organisations are already measuring their culture in real-time, taking advantage of digital tools and technologies so that they can get a pulse of the organisation, and see the impact of their actions. Furthermore, executives are pushing to make culture and its associated soft skills real by tying these scores to bonuses. This sends a powerful message to the organisation and its leaders: culture is important and leaders will be measured and made accountable for creating a positive corporate culture.

Other hallmarks to look out for in savvy organisations is commitment to training and an unwavering resolution to improve the employee experience. These organisations understand that by valuing their people, their people in turn will want to create more value for them. They know that a single and seemingly perfect moment that can posted to Instagram when a new hire starts the job is meaningless, unless it is supported by on-going behaviours that are accepted and celebrated within the organisation.

Culture and the building of soft skills have become a real areas of focus for organisations – as their value to the bottom line has become increasingly apparent. Companies that already understood this have nothing to fear. Other organisations — those just starting to understand this — will now have to begin a long journey towards building and enforcing a “strong corporate culture.”  Organisations that have not previously focused on soft skills are about to discover just how “hard” they can be to master.

Cindy Lee headshotCindy Lee is a Senior Consultant in the Digital Transformation team at DXC Consulting ANZ, she specialises in organisational change management, digital strategy and business architecture. With over 15 years of technology industry experience, Cindy is passionate about creating excellent customer and employee experiences on the way to delivering tangible results for her clients.


  1. Great meditation on an overseen topic

  2. Hi Cindy, and in the light of your article what would you say about DXC approach?


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