by Tony Vidler
Technical knowledge will only take you so far, and sometimes (like when the world is in lockdown and there are no rational markets) they won’t tyake you anywhere at all.
There are times when what you know just doesn’t matter. Knowing how to deal with people is all that matters sometimes. They are the two extremes though, and the reality in normal times you need both to some degree.
So soft skills need to accompany all the technical smarts if you want to really succeed as a professional adviser. That means having a bit more than just a firm handshake and a nice smile. But how much more? Or rather, what elese?
Well these are the ones that I consider to be THE essential soft skills that are required for success in todays consumer-focused fast-moving digital environment.
1. THE number 1 skill in the Google-Search-Era I believe is reputation management. Naturally all of the things everyone already knows about building, maintaining and guarding a personal reputation are included, and there is no point repeating them here. Just creating and maintaining a good reputation in itself however is not enough.
You have to learn how to actively manage that brand. Your professional reputation is in fact a brand. Your brand.
It is essential for today’s professional to become their own reputation, or brand, manager. It cannot be contracted out entirely, and it cannot be ignored, because any consumer can google your brand on their smartphones from their car. Anywhere…. anytime.
Having zero presence online is the same now as having no reputation to speak of, and basically no professional credibility of any consequence. Having a poor brand is arguably worse. I say “aguable” because there is some evidence to suggest that consumers trust ratings and reviews more when there are actually some poor reviews in there…just not too many.
But how you “look” online and how people talk about you in your community make a massive difference to your success.
It is critical to take charge of how your own reputation is presented and perceived. Either you manage it or you leave it to all the others out there plroviding reviews and talking about you to create your brand for you. One way or another you will get a reputation…you will have a brand. The question is really just “who is managing it?”
You must manage your personal brand, and that is why reputation management skills become essential.
2. The second of the key skills is managing transparency. This goes beyond mere compliance, or disclosure of conflicts of interest and the likes. Those issues are a part of managing transparency – but only a minor part in reality. Effective transparency is not triggered by customer request or a law…it is an attitude that couples compassion with great ethical behaviour.
It is about being open as a human….being something more than a dry, detached, technical wizard. Being able to show feeling, and passion, and empathy…..being able to connect to other humans at an emotional level is an expectation of most savvy consumers – especially when they are considering working with someone for a decade or more. It is a key element of establishing the “know, like, trust” components of professional relationships.
Open-ness is not natural for most of us – we don’t want the world to know everything about us (and I am not suggesting that as the goal here either). But beyond the limits of our own privacy we must learn how to be more open and transparent as humans. That takes work. It is a skill.
3. One of the essentials that still sends shivers down the spines of many professionals is the concept of “Persuasiveness”. This is more than having an armoury of great sales techniques; it is the ability to shape thinking and change behaviours in others. To do that you have to be persuasive.
Being persuasive involves being a salesperson as well as a coach as well as a great facilitator. Being able to influence clients to react positively to new information and strategies, and to change behaviour and attitudes requires all of the skills of all 3 of those roles – selling, coaching, & facilitating. Only then can a professional be completely equipped to create the necessary positive changes that clients need.
Without our active intervention clients would change very little would they? We must be able to persuade them to do so.
4. Like the chameleon we must be rapidly adaptable, and able to blend in quickly with the environment we find ourselves in. Embracing new thinking, new technology, new professional standards, new research, new trends in behaviour or society….”new” things are the new normality.
Adaptability is the key to thriving in the new normal.
Never has adaptability as a core skill been more evident than in the middle of global lock-downs.
5. The final one of the 5 essentials is about understanding. Being perceptive is understanding without necessarily needing an explanation. It is something more sophisticated than mere intuition. It is about developing the skill to hear what was not said, and to see what was not readily apparent.
Determining motives and attitudes and personality traits and drivers of behaviour…without needing a 40 page fact-finding document to do so…is a highly developed skill. That is “Perception”….being able to perceive and understand that which others do not necessarily express.
In addition to all the technical expertise and commercial knowledge that any professional needs today, there is clearly a requirement for strong soft skills as well. Out of all the possible soft skills that a professional might invest effort into developing and enhancing, these are the 5 that will make the biggest difference to success I believe. They are the essentials.