It’s the ‘soft’ skills that make all the difference

HR has fought for some time for recognition of its strategic contribution to an organisation. After all, people are the ones who deliver company strategies, and HR is charged with getting the best out of them. So it makes absolute sense to ensure that people development and business strategy are developed together.

There are strong signs that many more company bosses are realising this, and are beginning to pay more than lip service to that old platitude ‘people are our greatest assets’.

After rushing to comply with regulations governing the composition and accountability of the board, directors now realise that compliance doesn’t necessarily make a company more effective; it’s performance that makes the real difference to the bottom line. The CBI says that many are starting to question whether they’re spending too much time on complying, and not enough on growing the business, according to the article Deloitte offers free training for directors and top execs ( And a new survey of board-level directors (who are not from HR) within publicly-listed companies highlights their need for so-called ‘soft’ people skills (for more on this story go to

Given that the board is made up of people, they, too, need to be developed. HR can add value by looking at thorough recruitment and selection processes, coaching and mentoring for senior executives, and succession planning to ensure there is a pipeline of people primed to step up to the top table.

The suggestion is that those who prioritise leadership development are more likely to see a return on their investment. The survey shows a marked difference between companies with a short-term, investor-driven approach (which buy in talent) and those that take a longer-term, strategic view (which develop their own talent). The latter, it argues, is more likely to improve business performance.

We should see evidence of that from April next year, when public companies will have to report on people data as part of the Operating and Financial Review.

It looks like boardrooms are finally waking up to what HR has known all along: the ‘soft’ stuff is what really counts.

Karen Dempsey, Editor

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