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Monday, 22 May 2017

What should you call your soft skills?

At the CIPS East of Scotland branch meeting last week I gave a talk on Soft Skills - skills that for example include motivation, communication, influencing, change management, decision making, time management and so on (more on what I spoke about here).


One of the subjects we touched on was the use of 'soft' skills as the term used to describe these essential skills.

I've ranted before that soft skills aren't something that only those in touch with their emotions have. They're something we all have, and use daily. Soft skills are how we do what we do, and their effective use will make a huge impact on the outcome we get.

When I asked about the use of the word 'soft' last week, people suggested the term conveyed that they were unimportant or weak skills.

You only have to look at the power of water ie something seemingly very soft to realise that soft shouldn't mean weak nor unimportant.


It still raises the question about whether we should give these skills a different name? What about:
  • People skills
  • Emotional Intelligence 
  • Behavioural skills
  • Essential skills
  • Social skills
  • Humanity skills 
I suspect however, that we end up with the same issue. Perhaps it's not 'soft' that generates the belief that they're unimportant, it's that they're unconscious, below the surface, and linked to our emotions and our humanity that makes them scary, and something therefore to be ignored or avoided. (Perhaps time to let go of the musts, oughts and shoulds about what is and isn't appropriate in business?) 

With that in mind, we can call them what we want and people are still going to resist exploring them.

One solution might be to link the skills to the outcome they help you achieve, for example why not call them:
  • The skills that get you the job
  • The skills that get you through your day
  • The skills that help you prepare for your retirement!
  • The skills that mean you can afford to go on fabulous holidays 
  • The skills that help you cope with people in your life 
  • The skills that add meaning to your day
  • The skills that keep the roof over your head
  • The skills that get you out of bed every day
  • The skills that help you decide what to to
  • The skills that keep you out of danger (or try to)
  • The skills that help you open your mouth and say what you want to say when you want to say it
  • The skills that help you change a boring day into an exciting one
  • and so on
My recommendation therefore is to find a term that makes most sense for you personally. A term for the skills that will inspire your action to review your current competency of a skill, and also inspire action to develop the skill further too.  

What will you call these very essential skills that support your humanity?

Alison Smith
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools
alison@alisonsmith.eu +44(0)7770 538159

I've developed a Soft Skills Toolkit. The aim of the toolkit is to provide discussion points for personal or group exploration of your soft skills, allowing you to understand what options you have, should you decide to develop a particular soft skill.

There's 2 versions of the toolkit - Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills aimed at procurement professionals, and Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills aimed at a wider business audience. They're only £4.99 for personal use, with pricing available on request for organisational use.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Benefiting from the Fruits of your Labours

RHS Chelsea flower show is here, and with it the art of the possible.

Every year about this time I think about growing my own vegetables. I think about how lovely it would be to eat the fruits of my labour later in the year. I dream of freshly picked green beans, beetroots straight from the ground, and picking ripe juicy raspberries from the bush. I imagine the recipes I could use, and the wonderful meals I could cook with the home-grown fruits and vegetables. The fun and laughter with the friends I’d invite to share in the delights of my garden.

Then reality sets in as I watch my neighbours as they spend hours I don’t have, nor have the motivation, sowing seeds, carefully putting them in the greenhouse, watering then daily, pricking out and thinning the seeds as they grow, repotting them, and then feeding and generally putting a lot of time and effort into their own fruit and vegetable plots.

When I told Terry, the guy who mows my lawn, of my plans he smiled sweetly as he recalled all the times he’s had to tell me he’s going to prune a bush, or set about the garden to weed it after it’s got very overgrown.

Isn’t that the same in many organisations? Not for fruit and veg but for our suppliers? We have high hopes and expectations of our suppliers, and yet we, and our organisation, are not prepared to put in the effort needed to bring forth that bounty?

If we expect suppliers to do it themselves without our support and assistance then we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up with an overgrown lawn, a tree whose roots are busy undermining the house’s foundations, plants throttling other plants, or plants that have died through lack of water.   

Many of the horror stories of procurement gone wrong can track their origin to suppliers left to fend for themselves, or inadequately cared for. 

Who in your organisation is responsible for tending for your suppliers, and will the fruits of their labours meet organisational expectations in the autumn?

Gardening is a metaphor I often use with non-procurement managers as it’s something they can relate to more easily than the process we enthuse about and understand intimately. This post explores the metaphor further, and I’ve also pulled together a Pinterest board exploring different aspects of the metaphor.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking Procurement Potential using Unconventional Tools 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Soft Skills for Procurement Success

I spoke about Soft Skills at the CIPS East of Scotland branch meeting earlier this week. I'd like to hope that at least some of those there were inspired to come to hear more about soft skills, rather than just the CIPS/Hays salary guide 2017 that Suzanne Dillon shared with us earlier in the evening.

I used my recently developed soft skills toolkit as the basis of my talk. The toolkit uses postcards written to procurement from their soft skills.

At the start of the session I asked people to share the challenges they have with soft skills. As a result of the answers I received to the question I promised to pull an index together of posts I've written to answer the challenges, and to provide further information on subjects touched on in my talk.

This is that index for you to dip in and out of as needed over the coming days, weeks and months. They won't be going anywhere so no need to read them all in one go :-). Just get a coffee, or wine for that matter, and pop along when you're in need of a different perspective, and pick a post to read.

Content of the Talk:
  • How can you influence others - vlog with insight from those flowers that follow the sun.
Challenges you have on Soft Skills 
I'll have to come back to and write posts to address the following challenges: 
  • "When do we use our soft skills?" I'll do a soft skills diary at some point, and for now will just say - I think soft skills are responsible for 'how' we do everything.
  • "How do we develop our soft skills?" The same as any other skill - it's simply a case of taking it out of unconscious awareness into conscious awareness. You'll find more here. It's why I've developed the Soft Skill Toolkit, and you'll find more about how to use that here.
  • "How do we measure the impact of soft skills?" I suspect it's in people achieving their objectives better.
  • "How do I get my team to take soft skills seriously?" Hmm what gets measure gets done - so the answer may lie in the measures of success used in the organisation. 
  • "How do I increase peoples level of self awareness?" Whilst it is very personal I do think the culture within an organisation can help - vulnerability and asking for help need to be accepted and encouraged in order for people to lower their defences long enough to hear the feedback. Which starts with the manager being a role model for this too.
Unconventional Tools that I use in Coaching and Training
My Passions
  • This index of top 10 Purchasing coach posts might explain more about what I get passionate about - the main ingredient not mentioned already is about taking our humanity with us to work every day, and inviting procurement to be Enlightened and not to fall back on being Mr Wolf (descriptions used by some suppliers I trained last year)!
The Sales Pitch - ie what I could do for you
  • Coaching
  • Organisational soft skills training
  • Team facilitation - unlocking the potential of procurement teams
  • Open workshops - I'm going to be offering some 1 day soft skills workshops here in Fife over the summer - do drop me a line if you'd like me to send you details once they're sorted. I can promise they won't involve sitting in a hotel conference room all day. 
Email alison@alisonsmith.eu or even call me +44 (0)7770 538159 

Hopefully you'll have found at least one post that adds to your insight from the session, and has inspired you to do something different. Which reminds me of something I forgot to say, and that's that the quickest way to learn new things is to get your 'doing new things' muscle working by doing something different everyday - here's how I fared when I did it for 28 days last year.

Do keep in touch - here in comments, over on LinkedIn, or email.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking individual and procurement potential using unconventional tools
(with some conventional tools thrown in for good measure)