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When Soft Gets Hard; When Hard Turns Soft

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/19/2017 | 2:14 PM

Please enjoy the thoughts and musings of our friend, supporter, and long-time contributor Art van Bodegraven Jr., who passed away on June 18, 2017. Art was a prolific writer and had amassed a collection of unpublished blog posts he had planned to run well into the future. To honor his memory, we will continue to post these remaining blogs as he had intended. If you’ve been a fan of The Art of Art blog, check out our tribute.


An ongoing debate has revolved around the hard vs. soft primacy in acquiring talent for a couple of generations, now.  We have slowly learned to come down on the side of " you can't teach attitude" in these deliberations, but somehow are left with a cadre of  anti-social tecnicians while ushering the sub-par welders with smiling faces out the back door.

But, the equation generates its own unplanned results and relationships, perhaps forcing un-natural decisions.  Realistically, as much as we might prize it, we can't really pay for attitude - or measure it very well.  Worse, operational fragility might seduce hiring a skill that we need both desperately and immediately, forestalling acquiring the charmer who's a better fit with our (aspirational) culture.

For those with an eye on the future, where the ball is going, where the puck is likely to be, how severe the planned slice or hook might deviate from a true arc, we'll wait - even actively search for - the right kind of enterprise player.  We want someone who fits in, a team player, a resource with strengths that compliments others'.

I could go on for days on end . . .

The author of a monthly Lean column (electronic) has little idea of what he doesn't know.  His recommendation(s) for acquiring "soft" skills in manufacturing are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and FIRO-B.  Cool for someone who just got on the bus and has no clue what its first stop might be.

But, the Jungian roots of MBTI do not confer full legitimacy as a business tool; there are others, similar in foundation and better organized.  The selection of FIRO-B is useful, but has limitations in application.  These recommendations are naive on a good day, and dangerous in the hands of amateurs.

In the general type/style arena, alternatives to MBTI include the very popular DiSC model and endless varaiants of longer and shorter classification exercises.  The best, by far, imho, is the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI).  The full suite of tools is necessary to really get a handle on people and how to energize, engage, empower, and motivate them.  One or two random tests are not remotely close to what is needed to lead and manage effectively.

The authentic leader and manager exhibits, and teaches others, the subtleties of conflict management - styles, preferences, and conscious application as situations evolve (Thomas-Kilmann).  FIRO-B is useful only for aligning team roles and expectations, for understanding not only who fits, but also how they fit into organizational needs and individual expectations.

There's plenty more.  Team dynamics, group problem-solving, situational leadership - and the translation of all that has been learned into individual development.  Who's a keeper; who's a super-star; who's a stone loser; and who needs to find another home for Dilbert tendencies?  Situational ledership is one of the most needed, and most neglected, skills in the arsenal.

It remains true that soft skills are hard to find and leverage, while hard skills have soft spots that could swallow a forklift or two.

Oh, well. I suppose that the incomplete and misapplied tools the author suggests are to be expected from an irrelevant education coupled with working experience, apparently as told by the Brothers Grimm.





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About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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