Measuring your “soft” side
We are generally quite good at measuring sales, profits, return on investment, and other such metrics. But what about interpersonal skills like empathy, teamwork, and relationship-building? All too often, we overlook the crucial “soft” side of leadership in the numbers game.
So, this week, my message focuses on measuring soft skills, how to go about it, and how to encourage your team to do the same.
Measurement gives you a reality check
I know that many of you are constantly working to sharpen your people skills – be it becoming a more compassionate leader, a better listener, or a more effective delegator. Without tracking your progress, however, it’s tough to know how you’re actually doing. You may think you’ve improved, but this is simply a guesstimate, based on feelings and memories – both of which are notoriously unreliable.
What if we approached sales in the same way? Imagine if we did away with all the dashboards and simply said, “I think this month was pretty good. I’m quite sure we did better than last month!” This wouldn’t be acceptable in any organisation.
Using the same logic, we must stop accepting generalities and vagueness when it comes to soft skills. Some level of measurement, while undoubtedly not easy as measuring sales numbers, will help get a reality check and verify where you truly stand.
Sharing your tracking effort with co-workers also has benefits, as highlighted by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith in his article, Does Your Soft Side Measure Up?:
If you track a number, it will remind other people that you are trying. It’s one thing to tell your employees or customers that you’ll spend more time with them. It’s a different ballgame if you attach a real number to that goal, and people are aware of it. They become more sensitive to the fact that you’re trying to change. They also get the message that you care.
Of course, it’s important to frame this in the right way. Let’s say you’re trying to connect more deeply with your team through one-on-one conversations. However, people shouldn’t feel that these chats are simply items to be checked off your list and that you don’t genuinely want to spend time with them. Be sure to communicate your motivations clearly and honestly. For instance, you might say: “Getting to really know each of you is important to me, but I tend to get too caught up with day-to-day work. From now on, I’m trying to be better. I’m going to do my best to make time for us to talk.”
Yes, soft skills can be tracked
The greatest misconception is that the “soft side” of leadership is all things touchy-feely, which can’t be quantified. In reality, interpersonal skills are measurable – from communication to collaboration. You might have to get a little creative with the metrics, but it can definitely be done.
For example, if you’re trying to be a better listener, you could track the following:
- Out of all the conversations I had today, in how many did I put away my phone and give the other person my full attention?
- Did I ask at least two questions before making any statements?
- Can I recall what the other person said? Did I notice how they were feeling? Or was I too wrapped up in my own head, thinking about what I was going to say next?
If your goal is to be a more involved mentor, you could measure the following:
- How many hours did I actively spend on mentorship this week?
- Did I learn something new about any of my mentees?
- Did I do something tangible to increase their skills or their chances of success?
If you’re aiming to be more open and collaborative, you could think about the following:
- In how many meetings did I create a space for other people to give their input?
- How many new ideas did I consider with an open mind? And how many did I shoot down instantly?
- Did I incorporate anyone else’s suggestions into my plan?
Depending on which soft skill you’re focusing on, come up with a list of measurable indicators. Try to look at quantity as well as quality. Start out by tracking your performance on a daily basis. Within just a week or so, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand – this is your baseline. Now, you can come up with targets and work towards meeting them.
For example, if you’re trying to know your team better, you could aim for:
- Three 5-minute casual chats every day
- A weekly lunch with each team member by turn (pick a specific day to increase your chances of success)
- Learning something meaningful about at least one person each week
Along similar lines, Nisa Godrej and I have announced to our team that, in order to solicit more ideas on how we can more innovative and enhance our ways of working, we will each reach out to 3-4 team members every week to get their perspectives. This would be in addition to our regular interactions. This way, over the course of this year, we will be able to have over 200 specific conversations with our team members across our businesses and hopefully, generate a lot of interesting ideas.
Ignoring the interpersonal can be costly
In their article, A hard look at the soft side of performance, Kate Vitasek and Tracy Maylett offer a great example of why it’s important to pay attention to interpersonal skills along with traditional metrics. A Fortune 500 manufacturer and distributor of grains regularly reported excellent numbers in their performance benchmarking exercises. But something was off: if everything was so great, why were profits dipping and employees leaving? And why was the company losing key client accounts?
To find out what they were missing, the leadership brought in a consulting firm to conduct an in-depth study with around 150 managers across the company. The consultants found two key things:
- Operational performance was rigorously and visibly measured and reported. The company “lived and died” by these performance scorecards.
- Performance appraisals focused mainly on how much an individual contributed to meeting these operational targets. However, they ignored the interpersonal aspect almost entirely.
As part of the study, the company introduced integrated assessments for all managers, looking at both soft and hard skills. That’s when they discovered that high operational metrics often failed to go hand in hand with positive 360-degree feedback. Too many “high performers” lagged behind in areas like communication, trust-building, and leadership.
By overlooking the soft side and getting things done “at any cost”, these managers alienated their teams, leading to discontent and high turnover. Their interpersonal deficits also affected relationships with clients, customers and vendors, resulting in lesser or lost business. Ultimately, this affected the managers themselves: they were unable to sustain their operational success in the longer term, and many ended up leaving the company.
Encourage your team to measure their soft side
The above mentioned research proves what many experienced leaders already know – that how you develop and manage relationships is a critical aspect of performance. Which is why, along with tracking your own interpersonal skills, you could also encourage your team to do the same.
Lead the way by bringing up soft metrics in regular meetings. For example, how many times did team members express their appreciation in the previous week? Did they spend any time developing a key relationship? Don’t insist on everyone giving verbal answers. Instead, pose these questions as thought starters and give the team a bit of quiet time to ponder them on their own. By bringing up the soft side of performance in the same space as traditional metrics, you can foster a team culture that values both.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts.
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