Last year, Google announced the findings from an internal study that looked across teams to determine the most innovative and productive groups within the company. They found that their best teams weren’t the ones full of top scientists. Instead, their highest performing teams were interdisciplinary groups that benefited heavily from employees who brought strong soft skills to the collaborative process. Further research revealed that important predictors of success within Google were skills like good communication, insights about others, and empathetic leadership. But it’s not just top tech companies that are finding value in these types of skills. A Twitter poll from TedX found that people think teamwork and collaboration are the most helpful soft skills in the workplace, followed by critical thinking, public speaking and persuasive writing.
In this re.engineer feature we invite Ashley M. Martin, soft skills trainer, to share her perspective on what it takes to be successful as a professional. Teaching is Ashley's passion and the mantra of “You learn something new every day” is a philosophy that she lives by. She blends her love for educating, encouraging, and equipping others into dynamic conversations, training sessions, and talks.
You can find more information about Ashley at her website: www.iamashleym.com
Q: What inspired you to write Focus: Productive Leadership in Action? Ashley: Initially, I was inspired by a group of volunteers I served with. I was often the go-to person for encouragement and reassurance that things would be okay when we went through transitions and changes. I recall telling them to focus on the most important thing. I said one day I’m going to write a book to tell you all how to focus and that’s what happened 2 years later, Focus was published. Q: What perspectives would you lend for those of us who find that we don’t fit in our current professional environment? Ashley: Embrace your uniqueness but hold yourself accountable to adding value to your environment. Is your difference adding to or taking away from the big picture? We are unique but it gives us no license to intentionally cause negative disruption. Our uniqueness is there to add value and sometimes bring disruption that is positive and causes the necessary changes to be put into place. Those changes should ultimately lead to improvement in those environments. Eventually those in that environment will begin to see the value of having you there and if not then there are other questions to ask and possibly conversations to be had. Q: Why is it important to not only focus on technical professional development but also soft skills? Ashley: What good is it if I’m the best technician but can’t talk to a customer? What good is it if I’m the best business person but have horrible customer service skills? What good is it if I can get things done but do so in a way that harms the morale of a company or organization? It may work for a little while but eventually not having or developing those skills will cost in the long run. Soft Skills don’t replace technical skills, they complement them. Many companies are seeing the importance of investing. In ensuring they have a great company cultures. Having the skill set like collaboration, communication, creativity, and confidence help execution of technical skills. Soft skills reduce silos. Soft skills ensure everyone is on the same page so that again the bottom-line can be met. Q: Technology is essential to the growth of all industries and organizations. How has innovation in education and professional development created value? Ashley: You’re right. Technology is extremely important. In the education and professional development space, innovation has allowed distance learning to take place. If someone is interested in learning a subject, all they need is a device (not just a computer anymore), some stable Wi-Fi, and of course a good heap of focus. Lol Every methodology has its pros and cons, but distance learning has allowed learning to be accessible to those who may not have easy access to traditional learning spaces. Some examples include students who are homebound, students whose parents choose to homeschool, students who have or parents have a career that doesn’t work with a regular school setting, or adults that need the convenience of being able to learn from where they are. Innovation has also allowed these spaces to be creative in how learners are engaged. Incorporating video, music, applications, and the technology gambit has opened up channels for instructors to reach learners. In this day and age, educators of any sort should aim to make technology our friends. Balance is always in order; however, technology is paving new paths in how we all learn. It would not be in our best interest to not overlook its value. Q: One of the real struggles that most professionals have is finding the right balance between career, family and self. What are some of the tools or beliefs you have around time management? Ashley: Time keeps on ticking. I think time management begins with prioritization. One of the biggest challenges professionals I know have had is what comes first when you have so many priorities. Priorities change depending on the season you’re in. A single person’s priorities may not be the same as a married person’s priorities. The value doesn’t change because of one’s status. It’s just a different place that a person is in. A professional with a large family may have a different set of priorities than someone with a smaller family. Given some of those examples, some the beliefs and accompanying tools I have around time management, include the following.
Everyone is important and should schedule some time they enjoy doing what fills their cup. Schedule it just like it a meeting, date, or appointment. This will ensure that it happens.
Outline and frequently review your priorities. Again, your priorities may change depending on which season you’re in. Adjust your lifestyle accordingly and let those around you know what’s going on if necessary.
Keep the main thing the main thing. You determine the main thing but make sure the attention whatever the main thing is does not fall to the wayside.
Q: What keeps you up at night? Ashley: Not too much. I pray, journal, and go to bed. It’s important to get rest. All of the thoughts that roam in your head have to go somewhere so that’s why I journal; however, I do think about many things. One of the things I do think about often is how to get those who don’t yet see the importance of developing their soft skills (or those think they don’t need the development). Soft skills are more than people skills. It’s more than interpersonal skills. They complement your technical skills and without them the technical skills are just there. Some may argue that it’s like eating a plain cupcake. What’s a cupcake with the icing? Others may argue that they are the cupcake and the technical skills are the icing. Different perspectives but the bottom line is that they matter. There is a reason certain companies do well. (I’d love to sit in on some of their meetings or trainings for my own professional development. lol) They are cordial. They assist customers. They’re not perfect but something is working. They bring quality products or services (technical skill) which is important but they also have good balance of soft skills (customer service, communication, organization, & much more). Ashley M. Martin has been a re.engineer contributor and core team member providing insights and perspectives for some time now. She is a believer of creative problem solving, attaining peace, focusing to accomplish goals and leading by example. Ashley, thank you for extending your passion as an educator to us and the many professionals that desire to be organized, balanced and ultimately successful…which proves that you are a certified re.engineer! To find more information on Ashley, you can go to her social media pages: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter