When it comes to soft skills, every little helps
It is very encouraging to hear that Tesco’s group personnel director Alison Homer has been appointed to the board. Engaging a workforce is an art, a science and a skill, and if it’s not the leading concern of the executive board, it certainly should be one of the key areas of focus.
For a company of its size and stature, it is very surprising that Tesco, by its own admission, has overlooked the fundamental importance of soft skills. Peta Hay, head of the Tesco Academy who led the supermarket's strategy on leadership and development before recently becoming group resource director said: “up to now, because of the concentration on growth, the main questions had been ‘how can we do this faster or go further’. Empathy and warmth probably has been missed."
Whilst taking a hard-skilled approach will often result in short-term success (which Tesco has benefitted from), it is unsustainable. It is comparable to operating in adrenaline fuelled, crisis mode all of the time.
At an individual human level we can all go into overdrive to deliver over and above our usual capabilities in the short term but if this is prolonged, we just burn out and then performance declines or we opt out.
This is also true of organisational culture; healthy organisations need to have a balance of soft and hard skills within all their leaders to reach optimum business success.
OPP’s own leadership model identifies interpersonal skills such as ‘empathy’ and ‘people focus’ as key to the success of an organisation’s goals. These skills may come more naturally to some leaders but others will need to develop them, and this can be done.
Leadership skills are straightforward (not to be confused with easy) to develop. With self awareness, commitment and the right ‘road map’ there is no reason why individuals cannot become fully rounded and effective in both the hard and soft skills needed to drive a business forward successfully.
It is refreshing to see a large organisation admit that whilst they may have got it wrong, they are making forward steps to fill the gaps they had previously missed. I look forward to seeing how this new people-centred approach to leadership and business strategy works for them.