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Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Most Obvious Secret

          If you’ve got a job, someone is paying you. A purse-strings decision-maker thinks you provide value that is worth money.
          Duh. So what other thunderclap of wisdom is new?
          Well, there’s nothing new with thinking about the economics of personal employment. But it’s time to introduce some better thinking about it, in this tough and uncertain era. In fact, some of the oldest truths about the meaning of employment are among the least examined, and definitely the least accounted for.
          Here’s a recent illustration of what this is about:
          Supply Chain Management Review published a new study last month on which skills and competencies hiring managers are currently emphasizing in their job openings. The study focused on university preparation and was limited to the inventory management industry, but its results are thought-provoking in a much more general way.
          The survey asked hiring managers to evaluate applicants’ preparation in a number of appropriate skills. Are the candidates sufficiently prepared, or do they need to be better prepared?
          Glaringly high on the negative side are management skills and customer relationships. For management, the ratio was 44 percent in need of better preparation, 16 percent adequately prepared. For customer relationships, the numbers are 40 percent and 15 percent.
          So, by 3 to 1, the young people looking for employment in that sector are deficient in leadership and people skills.
          A lifetime of direct involvement in those areas tells me that picture is accurate across the entire working world.
          This is not to devalue subject-matter knowledge and technical skill. Those attributes must be present and productively engaged in any workforce. But this is not an either-or game. It’s a “both of ‘em” proposition.
          We all have experienced the frustration of working with, under or over people who had superb hard skills, but couldn’t listen, organize, decide, explain, etc. The job skills are present, but not productively engaged.
Shortfalls are just as damaging in the soft skills areas, but evaluating them is quite a bit more difficult. So is overcoming them. That’s why, in very many organizations, their absence is basically taken for granted.
You’ll notice, though, that people who make it their business to acquire and display excellence in management and people skills head the pack in getting hired and promoted. Organizations may not be good at equipping people with the full set of competencies, but most will pay for them when they’re available.
So it’s encouraging that the hiring managers in the Supply Chain Management report were even asked about management and relationships.
It’s discouraging to see how the results turned out, but there’s a real bright side. This is a major heads-up for career builders who are looking for that key advantage over the employment competition, either in the hiring line or on the job.
          Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean everybody will jump on it. They sure haven’t so far.

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