Ricky Robinson
Over the last two to three years, there has been a change in the way skills are viewed in the workplace. Business leaders are now recognising that no matter how highly qualified an employee is, if they don’t have strong soft skills – such as self-leadership, a positive attitude, a strong work ethic – they won’t contribute to the workplace in the most meaningful way.


“Performance drives success and soft skills drive performance. It’s those employees with the extra engagement, the additional leadership skills, the extraordinary accountability and the desire to keep learning that really make a difference to an organisation and to the world,” says Ricky Robinson, chief executive officer at leading performance agency, LRMG. Robinson says research published recently by universities, analysts, independent research centres and industry bodies shows a direct correlation between profitability and employees’ personal excellence. “Research on more than 200 000 managers and workers at multiple companies during a 10-year period links employee recognition with financial performance. According to the data, companies that effectively recognised personal excellence had triple the profitability in comparison with firms that didn’t.”

Furthermore, says Robinson, recruiters increasingly want business schools to pay more attention to people-oriented skills such as leadership and communication. Yet, according to a recent survey by the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), 67 percent of Human Resources (HR) managers indicated that they would hire an applicant with soft skills whose technical abilities were lacking. However, only 9 percent would hire someone with strong technical expertise but weak interpersonal skills.

Warren Buffett made the point when he addressed a recent graduate Master of Business Administration (MBA) class. “Imagine that your colleagues are companies in which you can invest and will receive 10 percent of the future profits. Who would you choose?” he enquired. “You would not choose the person with the highest IQ, or who came top of the class, or the one who has the best technical skills, you would choose the person with the attributes you most admire – like humility, reliability, authenticity, energy, listening and communication skills.”

“We’ve been on a journey of understanding that healthy individuals make for healthy companies and a healthy South Africa. Businesses accept that their workers, starting with their leaders, are whole beings who need to focus on their internal states and well-being in order to impact their overall health and their work positively. For these reasons, we suggest that upskilling people in terms of their soft skills is perhaps even more important than other areas of development,” emphasises Robinson.

Yet, 93 percent of HR managers surveyed recently say technical skills are easier to teach than soft skills. Robinson provides the following eight simple steps that individuals can use to improve their soft skills, or companies can use to encourage their staff to pursue:


  1. Learn from leaders and from others
    Companies should provide learning opportunities within their organisation.
  2. Self-awareness and awareness of others
    Improved performers are cultivated through self-awareness as well as an understanding of the other viewpoint.
  3. Practise mindful listening
    It’s not just about hearing what a co-worker is saying, but picking up on their tone, body language and subtext.
  4. Connect with others
    Studies show that people who have friendships in the office actually perform better.
  5. Be a leader
    This means influencing people and becoming a trusted advisor within a work environment, as well as a motivating force in your team.
  6. Go for it – take initiative
    Great performers are all about opportunity and experience.
  7. Seek feedback
    “Some of our toughest critics are our greatest mentors,” says Robinson.
  8. Be yourself and be kind to yourself
    “Appreciating ourselves and our self-worth, forgiving ourselves and our shortfalls – these are crucial to being healthy individuals,” concludes Robinson.