Technical and Soft Skills Declared Equally Important by Expert Leadership Panel
29 May 2018
Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship hosted a Speakers’ Panel on 21 May 2018, with a focus on the topic of ‘Bolstering and Balancing Your Technical and Soft Skills’, something that all business leaders can gain from. Kindly sponsored by James Cowper Kreston and supported by Thames Valley Business Growth Hub the Panel shared their insights on the topic.
The panel featured three speakers: Kate Lester, CEO of Diamond Logistics, the fastest growing courier company in the UK and a previous winner of the Real Women in Business Awards for Entrepreneurship, as well as being awarded the Ruban d’Honneur for Entrepreneurship at the European Business Awards; Sharon Pursey, CEO of the SafeToNet Foundation and co-founder of SafeToNet, a company that provides security and protection of children from harmful content online and the winners of both the Go Ignite Global Call and KPMG’s Best British Mobile Start-Up in 2017 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona; and Tracey Sanderson, Managing Director of Sensory Dimensions, a company that delivers sensory and consumer research for many leading food, beverage, home, personal and healthcare companies.
Jurek Sikorski, Executive Director of the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship, set the scene for the panel by pronouncing that despite the focus on technical skills highlighted by the government’s Industrial Strategy companies need to equip their workforces with both technical and soft skills. He expanded by saying that technical skills such as accounting, (big) data analysis, financial analysis, information management, marketing, programming and project management are required to do the job. His view was that businesses should hire and train employees to demonstrate these skills that the job cannot be done without, but employees also need the soft skills such as adaptability, communication, critical observation and thinking, influencing and persuading, leadership, problem solving and teamwork. Without these soft skills, Jurek warned that the business cannot perform and deliver results effectively, with communication in particular being crucial.
Kate Lester was the first of the speakers to present and she started with a view of the partnership between herself and Diamond Logistics, showing how the company’s growth has exploded over the last six years and that the many awards won were largely down to Kate’s ability to focus all her time on the business and build her diversity and skillset.
Kate issued a challenge that business should rethink the word ‘soft’ in ‘soft skills’, as they are essential skills for any business and belong alongside oft quoted technical skills. Her suggestion was to think of technical and soft skills as ‘Yin and Yang’, which describes how seemingly contrary forces may actually be complementary. Kate went on to highlight that skills work best when the business has a clear purpose and strong values to deliver excellent results. Diversity was marked as a big factor in the success of Diamond Logistics – 51% of the company (and 71% of the management team) are female – and in her summary Kate said that the balance between soft and technical skills should be 50/50, advising the audience to be aware of any in-built prejudices and finishing with a warning to ‘neglect either soft or technical skills at your peril’.
Sharon Pursey was next to present. She described the purpose of SafeToNet, to protect children online and to become the de facto go to platform for the purpose, and spoke with confidence about how the culture of SafeToNet is to balance technical and soft skills right at the heart of ‘how we work’.
Sharon went on to highlight the belief that culture should be the ‘wow’ for all employees and that means ‘combining the technical and soft skills’ to attract extraordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. Sharon closed by sharing her belief that the soft skills of collaboration, co-operation, adaptability and communication helped to motivate employees and deliver impact.
The final speaker, Tracey Sanderson, brought a different perspective to the panel. She stressed that technical and the softer skills were part of the working practice and culture at Sensory Dimensions, with technical skills at the core of many of the roles across the organization and the company putting time and money into training employees in technical skills, both in house and external. Contrasting the investment in developing technical skills, Tracey revealed that there is softer side to the business that is all about agility and communication. The company recruits people who can demonstrate these skills and its interview process is structured to identify these skills, with further recognition of these skills through employee appraisals to help improve performance.
Tracey went on to highlight the fact that Sensory Dimensions sets itself apart from its competition, through its focus on soft skills, something she is very proud of. Concluding, Tracey spoke of the true measure of company success and it wasn’t a surprise for the audience to learn that PepsiCo commended Sensory Dimensions by saying, “From top to bottom you’ll get a report from well-trained people,” making the investment in technical and soft skills essential.
The Q&A session that followed the presentations focused on the strategies being pursued by the companies, in particular to achieve diversity, deliver skills training and measure impact. Skills that are needed to do the job and deliver results are essential, however these might be labelled, and perhaps these should be renamed as essential ‘technical’ and ‘non-technical’ (rather than ‘soft’) skills.
Feedback on the event from the audience was positive, with several attendees sharing their thoughts:
John Truswell, JT Associates: “Excellent speakers…the evening provided thought provoking skills strategies that every business should adopt.”
Tamsin Napier-Munn, Business Magazine: “A great panel.”
Chris Dodson OBE, Torftech Group: “I learnt as always.”
Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship is delighted to have hosted the ‘Bolstering and Balancing your Technical and Soft Skills’ Panel.
The next event to be hosted by Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship is the tenth talk in the ‘Talks on Enterprise Development’ series, titled ‘Scaling Up Growth Using AI’ and featuring Kishore Sankla as it’s guest speaker. Kishore is co-founder and CEO of the award winning Solutions4Health, an innovative healthcare services provider that works with to local councils to nationally address public health needs with a range of services, including adult and child weight management programmes, children’s lifestyles services in schools, falls prevention, NHS health checks, smoking-cessation, new information systems and technology solutions.
The Henley Business School is committed to work with the SME community in the Thames Valley Region for mutual benefit. Read more here.
Contact and Notes:
Executive Director, Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship
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