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A 2014 study conducted by Adecco revealed that 92 percent of US executives believe that the American workforce suffers a skills gap.  Surprisingly, 44 percent of the executives believe that the biggest gap was in the soft skills:  communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.   Only 22 percent felt the gap was in the technical skills.  In which industries were the soft skills gap the most prominent?  Manufacturing, technology, professional services, and engineering.

Project failure rates seem to underscore that reality.  The International Project Leadership Academy keeps an ongoing tab of noteworthy project failures in its Catalogue of Catastrophe. It defines failures as “projects that have been cancelled due to quality or delivery problems, those that have encountered significant budget or schedule overruns and those projects that have gone live resulting in significant service disruption to users or the public.” Based on their catalogue, they have identified ten “classic mistakes:”

  1. The underestimation of complexity, cost and/or schedule
  2. Failure to establish appropriate control over requirements and/or scope
  3. Lack of communications
  4. Failure to engage stakeholders
  5. Failure to address culture change issues
  6. Lack of oversight / poor project management
  7. Poor quality workmanship
  8. Lack of risk management
  9. Failure to understand or address system performance requirements
  10. Poorly planned / managed transitions

Interestingly, at least six of these mistakes result from the same soft skills the Adecco study executives felt were lacking in today’s workforce. If you wanted to aggregate even more, it would not be a stretch to say that 40% of those mistakes are directly linked to communication issues, 30% to technical issues, and 30% to poor project management skills.

Comprehensive Learning Solutions has been reducing that gap through its customisable courses that focus on communications and project stakeholder management.  The input we receive before and during class corroborate the findings of these two studies. The most repeated themes we hear fall under these five questions:

  • How can we disagree with clients without jeopardizing the relationship?
  • How can we build trust?
  • How can we control scope and still please our project sponsors?
  • How can we make sure the team knows what everyone is doing without overburdening them with too many meetings or reports?
  • How can we deal effectively with difficult personalities?
  • The answers really boil down to five simple rules that our parents and teachers should have taught us as we were growing up:

Listen more than you speak.

  • Do unto others as you would have done unto you (Golden Rule).
  • Do unto others as they would have done unto them (Platinum Rule).
  • Keep your promises.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say.

So, have we become too technical?  Not really.  We need the technical skills to survive in today’s work world.  The real problem is not about skills (technical or interpersonal); it’s about focus.  We have become too internally focused.  The reward systems at US schools and offices reinforce the “rugged individual” notion that we should succeed independently.  This encourages a “looking out for #1 first” mentality that causes us to think about our own goals, problems, deadlines, and emotions before others’.   When our interests and emotional needs clash with others, then we have a “communications issue.”  If we really want to shrink the communications gap, we need to become more externally-focused.  We need to change our thinking from being “all about me” to “all about us.”  In essence, that is what communications skills training tries to do.

That leads us to….

This month’s questions:

Do you agree?  What are the biggest skills gaps you see in your organization?

Please share your ideas below so we can learn from each other.

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