Evaluating Soft Skills

Evaluating Soft Skills

The mere presence of technical abilities does not guarantee success. Soft skills are essential for winning the race. As Indian pharma advances on the growth radar, Sonal Shukla tries to ascertain if the industry is truly prepared to identify, accept and utilise the benefits of soft skills.

Survival of the fittest, seems to be the mantra that is guiding the fast paced Indian pharmaceutical industry. Gone are the days of sluggish processes and sloppy standards. Today’s new and improved pharmacos are looking at scaling the dizzying heights of success, not just through their strategic moves, but also through the support of their capable employees.

As a result, they are looking for people, who can adapt very quickly to the changing corporate scenario and meet the demands of varied situations. Hence, the focus is on the criticality of soft skills.

Leadership, listening, negotiation, conflict management—all these are soft skills by nature that underline both individualistic career aspirations of an employee, as well as, offers business advantage to the companies at large. “There is so much of competition apart from technical skills that one needs to show that he owns something extra to take the cutting edge over the others,” says Sudha Mohan, Senior Manager-HR, LifeCell.

India was once a sheltered economy and various organisations had developed their own insular styles. Now, with a global mindset driving organisation structures, processes, strategy and competencies, it is being proven that the so-called soft skills are actually the main components that define sustainable success for all types of organisations.

According to Arnab Ray, Associate Director HR, TCG Life Sciences, the problem in the pharma industry these days is that the work in pharma is highly pressurising. Time constraint is an issue. In such situation employees, who are good at soft skills are able to manage and take the pressure of work and deadlines and are also able to boost the moral of other fellow employees.

What we look for

Depending on the style and the operations of the organisation, the role and utility of soft skills may vary. Still the business advantage from the softer skill set emphasises their growing demand across the pharma vertical. “Since we need to deal with our international partners on a regular basis, improved soft skills help in better communication and team work across various work centres around the globe,” opines Raman Akella, General Manager, Administration, Nektar Therapeutics India. The main thrust in Nektar Therapeutics is on communication, team work, team building, language training, effective decision making, developing assertiveness, emotional intelligence at the work place, corporate etiquette and so on.

Whereas, for an organisation like LifeCell, which is heavily into the revolutionised concept of cord blood banking, the idea of concept selling translates into a particular need for soft skills. “This is not just simple communication that we have to do, we are selling the concept and at the same time are portraying the positive image of the organisation,” explains Mohan.

Today’s organisations focus on quick growth and quick marketing, which results in acquiring employees with growing goal orientation and critical thinking skills. Organisations that focus on steady growth, may give more importance to customer service abilities than others. In such a way, the selection of attributes that match the given roles in the organisation, definitely tie into the style and culture of the organisation.

In the course of defining the required soft skills, the role for which these attributes are being defined becomes very crucial. For instance, in a role of quality control, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare firms have found it important to define the attributes such as perseverance, goal orientation and conscientiousness very important. For sales, result orientation, critical thinking and being situational savvy are preferred amongst others. In the areas of materials management in pharma today, it is imperative to have very highly disciplined and controlled vendor management processes in order to have traceability and causal analysis. Hence the attributes such as conscientiousness—the ability to work in a neat and orderly manner, respecting authority and keeping account of detail working in a process, would greatly enhance the efficiency of a person in that role.

Soft skill should go hand in hand along with hard skills. Absence of either of them brings down the effectiveness of the individual which ultimately reflects on the organisation’s overall productivity.

Recruiting right

And since, soft skills are very much a part of the quality of an employee hired, HR departments are focusing a great deal on measuring the attributes of talent that it proposes to hire. Over the years, pharma companies in India have been subject to greater competition due to deregulation of the economy. In order to compete with the world’s best, companies have found that they need to increase efficiencies in all areas, even in the hitherto ignored area of attribute-based selection. “A technically sound candidate with low rating on the soft skills will never be a preferred choice for the recruitment panel. If a candidate is well trained in soft skills, he is sure to present himself with grace and confidence, which will definitely have a positive impression on the panel,” opines Akella.

Organisations are developing methods to identify people with the required attributes in the screening and selection processes of recruitment. Some of the more common methods of identifying such attributes would be behavioural assessments structured interviews, group activities and focused questioning methods. These methods are derived and implemented by those trained in the respective area.

Myriad of skills

If people do not possess them, companies can also help acquire them. But can these skills be learnt? Yes they can be. According to Pallavi Jha of Dale Carnegie Training India, there are three clear areas of soft skill development that are considered critical for success. At a senior level, the ability and the attitude to inspire and drive change and communicate the same across influential communities becomes important. For the middle level, sharp management and leadership skills to attract, retain, motivate and develop high performing teams are vital. “At the junior levels, transition to the emerging requirements for consultative selling and client relationship management, in an environment which is moving away from the classical product detailing format holds significance,” she states.

All training required for employees in a company is necessarily linked to their roles and the performance outcomes that the employee is accountable for. B S Ahluwalia, HR Head, Anglo-French Drugs & Industries opines that particularly for their field force who are at grassroot level, communication skills, interpersonal skills, CRM skills are needed to improve prescription sales. For field managers, interpersonal and leadership skills (for supervisory function) are important. Whereas, for second line managers, business planning skills and decision making abilities are to be incorporated.

There are many options available as both stand-alone products and also parts of solutions that can be customised to the needs of an organisation. It is possible to develop and deploy a learning matrix across the entire company that can lead to significant growth in soft skills level and tangible business results. “Dale Carnegie Training India works across the entire range of soft skills to enable employees at all levels to develop and sharpen their competencies and ensure enhanced performance levels both at a tactical individual level as well as, strategic business benefits for the company”, says Jha. “We had an outbound learning programme combined with adventure course at Snow Leport Adventure camp near Rishikesh. Team building, leadership and problem solving were elaborately covered in this programme,” says Ahluwalia.

At Chembiotek, a subsidiary of TCG Lifesciences, which is primarily a service-based organisation, demonstration and application of soft skills play a vital role in representing and enhancing the core competence of the scientific people in client interactions, adaptability within the organisation, efficiency in teams and increasing ones individual and therefore organisational productivity. Soft skills vary across different levels, becoming more specialised at higher levels. However, the essential ones are basic communication skills to express thoughts clearly, listening skills, feedback-receiving skills, attitudinal skills of mutual respect and skills to adapt to different environments. “We try to assess these skills by observing and framing questions in a particular style and taking decisions accordingly. The assessment feedback is recorded. The pool of systemic skills like socio-cultural adaptability skills, interpersonal skills, attitudinal skills such as openness and flexibility that are required are adjusted on joining, during induction and the first few months of employees’ tenure before we consider them ready for projects,” he says. Other soft skills will be developed and enhanced during the course of their tenure with us, he adds.

Many firms, today, conduct training for soft skills internally through their own set of trainers. But the trend is more and more moving towards outsourcing this activity. “We are in touch with various agencies that are experienced to impart soft skills to the employees,” states Akella. Nektar Therapeutics designs modules to improve their employees’ soft skills. “In the coming months, we also plan to get international experts to brush up the soft skill of employees here in India so that they are on par with colleagues in various countries,” explains Akella.

LifeCell on the other hand is planning to outsource the training exclusively to consultants. “In LifeCell, we have an internal trainer. As soon as the employee is hired, the trainer spends a lot of time with him identifying the kind of training he needs,” reveals Mohan. Training sessions are organised and feedback is taken from the employees. This provides the person an opportunity to present one’s skills. At the same time, his or her weak points can be figured out as well. Later on, the employers concentrate on those particular areas so that they can perform better.

Today, companies have evolved fairly robust performance development and employee development processes, where they have defined the managerial and soft skills that employees must demonstrate at different levels of growth in the company. In these times, it is absolutely mandatory in progressive companies that employees seeking growth meet these requirements apart from the functional results prescribed.

(With inputs from Sushmi Dey)