The Softer Side of Business

The Softer Side of Business
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The business world is tough. It’s fiercely competitive, it’s stoically unforgiving, and it’s relentlessly fast-paced. It might not be a stretch to describe the iconoclastic successful business professional as a “hard-nosed” executive who always gets their way.

That’s the image, anyway. However, successful entrepreneurs and business executives often defy that archetype. They usually do, in fact. A survey of modern day captains of industry often reveals inspiring, visionary story-tellers who can adapt to change and bring listeners into a new world in half the time of a TED talk. Just think about Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Sheryl Sandberg, to name a few.

In a recent article, BusinessBecause took a look at the softer side of business, and found that business training might be missing a key ingredient to success. When looking at recent graduates, the article noted that “even though new hires posses exceptional information technology skills, the same individuals severely lack soft skills,” which the article goes on to define as effective communication, ethics, and the ability to work within a team. The author points out that soft skills are being perilously underdeveloped because they’re not stressed in many business programs.

We would suggest that is true for three primary reasons. First, soft skills are often overlooked as a trainable skill set. Second, quantitative progress is much easier to assess in the classroom using objective measures, such as getting the correct numeric value in an economics or finance problem, than it is to measure a largely subjective discipline such as “delivering a persuasive presentation.” Finally, even in programs that ensure soft skills are part of the training, they often don’t show up on the course listings for MBA programs, and wind up being under-emphasized.  

At Midland, we believe that soft skills can absolutely be taught, and we’ve built that training into the MBA curriculum in both named and unnamed ways. 

At the start of the program, students are placed into small, diverse teams within their cohort, and are led through an analysis of team and individual strengths and communication styles. Teams then work as a unit to tackle quantitative projects and then present findings back to the larger class in a formal setting. 

After working together to schedule meetings, lead each other when no one is formally in charge, and contribute individual strengths to the team efforts, students receive directed coaching to help them overcome roadblocks and reflect on the strategies they have tried before being assigned new teams to practice the skills again. 

Students also have multiple specific courses that focus on soft skill cultivation, including courses on strategic communication, consulting, and marketing. These courses aim to continually replicate the demands of business by bringing together measurable, quantitative analysis and persuasive, effective communications to report on findings.

The capstone consulting project where students help create and then complete a project of value in an external business and present their analysis and recommendations in a corporate environment is the culmination of their MBA. It brings together all the skills–both hard and soft—that they have been studying, acquiring, and sharpening during the program. 

We believe this practiced approach is what it takes to truly prepare for success, which is the purpose of investing in an MBA for students. As BusinessBecause notes, in business (and in life), the need to communicate ideas and solve problems collaboratively is ubiquitous. 

Even while knowledge and technology job growth outpaces other sectors of the economy, businesses continue to shift from siloed, technocratic work styles to flexible, cross-functional, consulting-style work groups to solve problems and grow organizations. Doing that takes a mix of technical competency and soft skills, and prospective MBA students should ensure that whatever program they select, this will be an intentional part of the training. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how hard and soft skills come together in the Midland MBA, contact us directly in the comments, via LinkedIn, through Twitter @MidlandMBA, or by phone at 402-941-6517. 

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Photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

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