Kim Godwin says soft skills are hard to assess

(We welcome another guest post from Kim Godwin, former CPO of Barclays Bank and Past President of CIPS. Kim has majored over the past 7 years on behavioural ‘soft’ skills, helping a range of businesses assess and develop these skills in procurement at an individual and team level).

In my previous post I made the proposition that it’s how individuals achieve results in purchasing and supply management rather than what individuals achieve that distinguishes the best from the average performer.

So it was interesting to read a recent issue of Supply Management that reported on the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) conference in Texas. Talent management was high on the priority list for delegates , which in part inspired me to put a these thoughts  down - then there was also a feature in the Times more recently about changes to Google’s recruitment process, but more of that later.

The ISM conference looked among other things at what procurement leaders look for in potential candidates. A panel of four CPOs agreed that “technical competence should be taken for granted and buyers should focus on expanding other skills. These included persistence and resilience in the face of change, the ability to be a change agent, intellectual curiosity, motivational skills and a commitment to the profession”.

I might take issue about some of the ‘skills’ that were chosen, but I agree whole heartedly that it’s the non-technical skills that are what makes the difference. And because these skills are typically not well developed in many individuals, we have the war on talent and the upper quartile salaries being paid to attract just this type of individual. If you want to increase your employability and pay cheque, you can’t do better than develop your soft skills profile.

But what interested me about the ISM debate was that if you agree that these skills are important to recruit, how do you objectively assess these at interview?  In my experience most don’t even try. There are exceptions, but a common issue is that interviewing as a skill is a bit like negotiation - everyone thinks that they’re pretty good at it and that it comes naturally to them.

What people tend to go with is gut instinct, and how it felt in the interview. Perhaps “good communication skill” is assessed on the basis of a good rapport and an articulate candidate. But as we all know that’s a fairly shallow definition of communications.

So my challenge is this. For a profession that prides itself on objective, fact based selection processes when we choose suppliers, how can we better and more objectively assess these soft people skills such as attitude, motivation, or relationship management?

Which takes me to Google. It was reported in a recent edition of The Times that they used to interview with conundrums: how many piano tuners are there in the world? How many golf balls can you fit inside an airplane? Would you rather be a banana or an apple? But now they’ve ditched this approach which they describe now as an absolute waste of time – claiming that it serves primarily to make the interviewer look smart.

What Google has done is to move to competency based interviewing (CBI), exploring how candidates respond to specific business situations. But as many will know, there is CBI and there is CBI. Many interviewers lack the necessary rigour and focus to carry out such an interview, and if we agree that the profession is generally lacking in these skills, how many people are there who know what ‘good’ looks like and therefore are equipped to assess others?

Maybe something to explore another day.....

Voices (2)

  1. bitter and twisted:

    My experience of assessing soft skills:

    Some HR numpty asks you to tell a story about how you dealt with a difficult colleague etc.

    and then you second guess whether they want the ‘Assertive’ or the ‘Diplomatic’ anecdote.

    A professional bullshitter gets the job instead with their superior, fabricated,tale. Down the pub 3 months later a supplier relates to you about how that companys new buyers are idiots with no technical knowledge, you could do really well there mate.

    maybe ignoring soft skills (and getting random results) is actually better than selecting them badly (and getting liars) !

    and another thing:

    some of these soft skills are clearly situational between individuals and systems and are not inherent to the individual.

    PS. You can fit 2.75 million golf balls in a plane

    1. Minimee:

      Finally someone says it!

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