The Imperative of Human Resource Business Partners Who Understand Soft Skills

The Imperative of Human Resource Business Partners Who Understand Soft Skills


During most of the 20th century employees were hired by the Personnel Department, where they were screened, had their skills tested and their paper work processed. That department has since evolved to Human Resources and when they screen for skills, they are more often including “soft skills”—critical thinking, creativity, communication, conflict resolution, empathy, ability to problem solve and emotional intelligence–capabilities needed to contribute to the organization’s overall corporate culture and goals.  In fact, research from Harvard University shows that 85% of job success comes from soft skills and only 15% from technical skills. 

In what he terms the Human Resources Reset in an article at, Edward E. Lawler III, a distinguished professor of business at the University of Southern California Marshall School of business, writes “There is a great need for the emergence of talented HR professionals who understand complex business strategy and are able to use data about people to impact and advance organizational effectiveness.”    At a time when there is such stiff competition for talent, business leaders do not want to make a mistake in hiring.  It costs too much and takes too much time to undo the impact of a bad hire.  As such, companies worldwide are increasingly looking through the lens of soft skills when hiring or promoting for key positions. For instance, Johnson and Johnson found that in divisions around the world, those identified at mid-career as having high leadership potential were far stronger in soft skill competencies than were their less-promising peers.

This makes sense to me.  Every day I see how “soft skills” increase overall performance.  I see how individuals with high Emotional Intelligence form stronger, more productive teams, how individuals who can think critically and who are creative, are more successful in business development, and how individuals who can problem solve and resolve conflict are highly effective at managing risk. I also see the generative nature of teams of individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence.

But how do we get there?  At The Fedcap Group we are rethinking the role of HR and incrementally building a human resource department that strategically develops and refines its plans for recruitment, training, and compensation based on the long-term business goals of the organization.  We are working hard to build human resource management teams that function as integral business partners, helping each of our company leaders understand their talent needs and recruit and retain employees who possess the right combination of soft skills and technical skills.  We are looking for HR professionals who drive talent needs—not simply fill position requests.

This is not a small undertaking. 

We look for HR professionals who understand the relationship between talent and the accomplishment of organizational goals. We look for HR professionals who understand how to assess for soft skills and can teach others to do the same.  We look for HR professionals who understand the dynamics of the teams they are hiring for, who look for gaps and find talent to fill those gaps. 

Our Human Resource Department is increasingly central to our strategic planning and our short and long-term business success.  

Getting the Pace Right

Getting the Pace Right

Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire famously said Festina lente or “Make haste slowly.” Does this seem quaint today? Or does it still make sense in a 24/7 world moving at the speed of a smart phone? Several years ago, the author and business leader, James Sudakow wrote in a blog that he had participated in meetings “where key leaders are literally working on their laptops on something else during important decision-making processes—not because they are trying to be disrespectful but because there is always something else that is urgently pulling them away.”

As leaders, we all understand this pressure.

Management consultants, McKinsey & Company, in a 2018 blog on leadership by Cornelius Chang and Robin Groeneveld, point out that speeding up isn’t the answer. “Most leadership theories continue to be based on—and most leaders still live and work on—the Newtonian world view where leaders strive to control and structure their challenges and guarantee outcomes. Engaging in a quick discussion and moving as fast as possible from A to B in a controlled and straight line fits this world view perfectly.”

But does that model of rapidly moving from A to B hold in today’s complex environment?

Because we work on many goals and projects simultaneously moving quickly throughout the process, it is crucial that we realize the difference between arbitrary and urgent. Slowing down in a focused way may actually be the path toward achieving the right pace and thereby making the right decisions. The logic that Chang and Groenevld offer: “Accept that your challenges are complex, pace the speed of your work, trust that intelligent, in-depth discussions lead to solutions, and set the right attention and intention by being present and directing your energy.”

As we strive for sustainability, relevance and impact at The Fedcap Group, we see the need for, and the value of, leadership moving at the same pace. We are making critical decisions that depend us being in sync. As leaders we are asking ourselves: Did we take enough time to thoroughly review various scenarios before making a decision? Did we have the right people in the room? Did we allow for differing perspectives to have voice? Did we slow down enough? In a new book called Slow Down to Speed Up: Lead, Succeed and Thrive in a 24/7 World, published by Business Expert Press, business advisor and consultant Liz Bywater, Ph.D., reminds her readers that being mindful is learning how to be completely focused on present conversations and present realities.

It is crucial that we form a strategy to find a balance to our fast-paced work environment so we can lead with clarity, thoughtfulness, and purpose.

The nine to five world is long gone, a time when we turned off the desk lamp, pushed the chair back under desk, and closed the office door. We now live in a 24/7 world and may still be a bit shaky about how to make it work. Festina lente!

The Right Talent as a Catalyst for Innovation and Impact

The Right Talent as a Catalyst for Innovation and Impact

Over the last few weeks, I’ve written about the strategic risks leaders must address to thrive in a competitive environment. Recently, I’ve discussed the importance of creating and sustaining a positive culture that helps drive innovation and change.

Critical to creating and sustaining the right culture is the sourcing, finding, and cultivating the right talent is another key catalyst for driving innovation and impact.  

Our people are our most strategic resource.  We have just implemented a new Human Capital Management system, as employing state-of-the-art technology around talent acquisition and management is critical to recruiting and retaining top notch staff.

The ability to recruit top talent stems from being known as a premier employer and building relationships with feeder institutions such as business, universities and local chambers.  And with that we have developed a description of the DNA of those who are successful in The Fedcap Group.

      • Passionate: They are driven to create/identify and resource the most effective ways to solve problems for people with barriers.
      • Informed: They are current within their respective fields.
      • Credible: When they speak, people listen because of their depth of knowledge and expertise.
      • Smart and Fast: They can see the end result and take quick, thoughtful and decisive action.
      • Creative: They generate innovative and often unexpected answers to difficult problems.
      • Curious: They thrive on new information and opportunities.
      • Dedicated: They run a continuous campaign to advance the position of The Fedcap Group and the people we serve.
      • Understands the concept of “Good to Great”: They constantly look for opportunities to improve the work of The Fedcap Group, searching for best-in-class practices–not reinventing the wheel.
      • Flexible: They are able and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
      • Fun: They take their work seriously, but not themselves.

Once recruited, the interview process demands its own structure and expertise.  When hiring for top positions in the agency, I ensure they spend time with every key leader.  I invite them to one of our “Corp Weeks” – where key staff from throughout the company come to New York to discuss corporate health, emerging trends in our areas of practice, review data about our company’s performance and brainstorm potential areas of innovation.

When I assess talent, these are the things I look for in prospective candidates:

      • How does the candidate think? What is important to them?
      • How does the candidate keep current on trends in their area of focus?
      • What do they see as trends over the next 5-10 years?
      • How do they use information to advance new ideas?
      • How have they made a difference?
      • How have they built effective structure in the past? How do they know they were effective?
      • Is the candidate one who consistently considers “what if?” scenarios?
      • How comfortable is the candidate with ambiguity? And if comfortable, how do they bring clarity and structure to that ambiguity?

The vision, the talent, and the ability of the staff to execute all combine to create the catalyst for driving—and realizing—innovation and ultimately impact in the lives of those we serve—creating a legacy for current and future generations to come.

The Long Term: Sustaining a High-performing, Positive Culture

The Long Term: Sustaining a High-performing, Positive Culture


Last week, I wrote about the importance of creating a culture by focusing on the things we value most and being deliberate about translating that focus into behaviors that reinforce our key tenets. This week, I examine the keys to sustaining a positive, high-performing culture.

Culture can sometimes be described as a “soft” aspect in an organization. But in fact, culture is driven by “hard” organizational components—including infrastructure, data, reporting and analysis, talent acquisition and management, risk management, financial stewardship, and day-to-day communications.  Each of these components must be aligned with the values and vision of an organization in order for the culture to stay consistent.  

As I wrote last week, accompanying these “hard” aspects of culture are the vision and the ensuing expected day-to-day behaviors that sustain positivity.  Sustaining a positive culture is, in itself, a body of work that requires reinforcing the vision, breaking the vision into expected behaviors, clearly articulating what those behaviors look like, acknowledging and encouraging the named behaviors, and calling out those that do not reflect the named culture. It means naming the values as a part of our job descriptions, performance reviews, and articulating them in ongoing one-on-one and team meetings.  

Also essential is an ongoing and consistent process for measuring adherence to the values that comprise our culture.   Every one of us is responsible for upholding the vision and the behaviors that accompany that vision.   We are all “owners” of the business—in other words, we are stewards of our vision, our values, our behaviors, and the structures that embody our culture.

Who we are internally reflects who we are externally to every stakeholder—from vendors to corporate and contract partners to every constituency we serve.  Our culture and the accompanying structural and behavioral building blocks are the keys to organizational success, credibility, and our ability to manifest the Power of Possible in concrete and measurable ways—leading to better lives for those we serve.

I welcome your thoughts. 

Setting a Vision: A Values-driven Culture

Setting a Vision: A Values-driven Culture

Workplace pic

Last week, I wrote about the first step in shifting and improving culture—to identify and acknowledge the prevailing culture by listening, by asking, and by creating the trust required to elicit honest feedback—even when it is hard to hear.

Assessing the current culture creates a starting place from which to make shifts or improvements as identified through perceived gaps. Once that assessment is clear, the next step is to be intentional about the values that will drive our culture and we must define the behaviors that reflect those values.

Culture will either be a company’s greatest asset or largest liability. While culture has many aspects and manifestations, its core should include a clear sense of purpose and shared values that guide decision making across the company.

For The Fedcap Group we value the following:

    • Solving, not just serving problems.
    • Authentic collaboration and partnerships that result in fully integrated
      (not stove pipe) solutions for people with barriers to economic and social well-being.
    • Sustainability and Corporate Health
    • Thinking about What’s Next—being prepared for the changing market place
    • The Power of Possible
    • Transparency in our financial and programmatic results to all stakeholders

Because this is what we value, this is what we talk about. These are the topics on which we spend our time and our resources.

Translating those values into behaviors is the secret sauce. Because company culture is a concept that is easier to experience than to describe, we spend a good amount of time talking about what we want people to do, what a value driven set of behaviors looks like. For example, we place a high value on people collaborating with one another. In fact, we believe that we will only accomplish our organizational goals if we are highly effective team players. So, we are focused on how people behave around others—in meetings or in formal settings—and how they behave when they are alone or in informal conversation with their colleagues. Do they respond to e-mails and phone calls? Do they value one another’s worth? Their time? Do they carve out time to brainstorm precise interventions that, when accurately sequenced could create profound impact?

We also value innovation and creating real solutions to pressing societal issues. As such it is imperative that we bring talent to the work. Talent tends to multiply. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. So how do we find talent? Are we creative? Are we known as a premier employer? Do our job descriptions reflect our values? Do our interviews? Once we find talent, how do we onboard? How do we lay out expectations? Are our policies clear? How do we support talented individuals in their efforts to develop solutions?

We value sustainability–financially, reputationally, programmatically. As such we spend a lot of time talking about risk and risk management. We expect every individual in the company to be aware of their role in ensuring that our reputation remains intact. We stress that risk management is everyone’s job. So, when I talk to staff informally, I ask them, how are you managing risk in your role? What are you doing to ensure that your program is financially solvent? We have embedded Risk Management discussions into our Brown Bag Lunches and our Leadership Academy. It will be a major component of our soon-to-be-launched Executive Institute. Also, data is imperative to a sustainable organization. So we have invested in technology and we expect that leaders understand their data—and act on it. And to all of this and more, we stress, if you see something that could impact the health and future of the organization…say something.

Building a culture where people’s behaviors are a direct reflection of our values is the job of any leader. While it is not easy, corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within our control.

Shifting Culture as a Strategic Imperative

Shifting Culture as a Strategic Imperative


The building of a culture requires a thirst for knowledge about what is….”   J. Bennett

Last week, I wrote about the imperative of establishing an organizational culture that embraces change as an essential key to managing strategic risk and accomplishing organizational goals. Over the next few weeks, I will be examining the mechanisms for identifying and analyzing organizational culture and ways to systematically shift the culture as required.

Shifting culture is not necessarily easy—but it is possible—and it can be done with the right process that is emphasized and supported over time. That process includes: 1) clearly identifying and acknowledging the prevailing culture; 2) setting a vision for culture and establishing accountability mechanisms to advance expected behaviors; and 3) ensuring that our employees are acknowledged and supported as they begin to make the necessary behavioral and attitudinal shifts.

Acknowledging the prevailing culture: As leaders, we must be aware of the prevailing culture. This means that we understand what is happening two, three, four layers down in the organization.  Some leaders may make the mistake of assuming that the way people treat them, respond to them or interact with them is the norm across the agency.  Often it is not.  

I do this in several ways. 

First, we talk about culture and its inextricable link to organizational success.  I make it a point of talking with our senior leaders and staff how an innovative, responsive and data-driven culture is a foundation for successfully carrying out our long-term strategy.  That successful and high-performing organizations have a culture that is purpose-driven, performance-focused, and principle-led. 

Then I ask—how do we compare?  I make no assumptions but instead invite feedback and honest assessment from employees by asking very specific questions that speak to culture—sometimes in quick and informal settings and sometimes in more formal gatherings.

I call for honesty around what might be identified as subterranean cultural issues that might interfere with the organization achieving its goals.  For example, I ask…do people respond in a timely manner to one another?  Does the field feel supported by corporate services?  Do they get the information they need, as rapidly as they need it to do their work, manage their budgets, hire good people? I work hard to create a safe place for people to speak directly to the issues of culture and engagement. With every conversation, I listen carefully. This listening establishes trust, which in turn, engenders direct and honest feedback. I want to hear it all. Sometimes I hear things that are difficult or in direct contrast to the kind of culture that is required for success. I invite the truth, and I am not afraid to hear it.  I encourage senior leaders of the organization to be equally as inquisitive, as interested in the day-to-day experiences of their staff.  And I want to know what they learn. 

This learning provides us with the opportunity to act.   We have a sense of where there are gaps—in communication, trust, accountability, and delivery of expected results—and we can respond. 

As we continue to explore culture next week, I will speak to the setting a vision and establishing accountability mechanisms to advance expected behaviors at the leadership and line staff level.

Managing the Strategic Risks That Come with Change

Managing the Strategic Risks That Come with Change


Change is inevitable in today’s market place.  If The Fedcap Group—or any other nonprofit—is to survive we must remain relevant and attuned to the evolving demands and the competitive environment.  I have learned that there are strategic risks leaders must address to ensure an ability to respond to a changing market.  This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it hits the imperatives: 

Culture. It is imperative that leaders pay attention to the prevailing culture within the organization. We all know the phrase “culture eats vision for lunch”.   It is the truth.  Culture is really understood by spending time talking to people from throughout the organization.   Do not assume that you have a responsive culture because people are responsive to you as a leader.   Do not assume that you have an innovative culture just because people tend to be positive about change in a meeting.  As leaders, we have to work hard to develop a culture that embraces change as a way to improve the outcomes for those we serve.  We have to tie every decision, every new leadership position, every operational change, and every organizational improvement to this goal.   It has been my experience that the majority of staff will get behind an idea or a change effort—even if it is significant—if it is founded on improving the outcomes for those we serve.  

Talent.  While we may not start the change process with all of the right people at the table, it is imperative that as we move forward, we secure people with the needed skills and experience to execute and maintain a change initiative.  Recruiting and onboarding high-quality talent takes some time—so start now.   You will need both leaders and doers—and hopefully the same person does a lot of both. 

I look for people who are able to obtain buy-in from critical stakeholders, individuals who are able to dissect the effort and then structure the work to accomplish the tasks and who effectively create a sense of urgency.  

Technological Investments That Produce Data.  Lack of data is often a critical constraint to effectively undertaking organizational and programmatic change. Core legacy systems may not be able to provide timely and accurate information and analysis for business decision making. In other cases where organizations have grown inorganically through acquisitions, (such as The Fedcap Group) critical systems and data sets may not be seamlessly integrated to give comprehensive real-time insights on key business issues. Thus, often, core data and IT infrastructure have to be improved –and this often occurs AS process and operational changes are occurring.

Alignment in Priorities.  Effective response to the changing marketplace requires commitment, alignment and sponsorship from key corporate players.  Without the right level of commitment by all critical parties, change efforts can be delayed or become harder to execute. Misalignments do not always occur due to major disagreements or conflicts among stakeholders. Instead, they can occur because different key staff prioritize their work differently.  Thus, aligning the agency primary goals and change processes is required for organizational success. 

Clarity. Change efforts can also fail due to ambiguity about the end goal for the change.  When there is ambiguity of purpose—the project and system requirements may not be precisely specified. The programmers and developers of the system may provide their best interpretation of user requirements, but specific needs may be lost in the interpretation. This can lead to the development of systems that do not meet end user needs.

Getting Comfortable in the Unknown.  Prior experiences can be a very powerful constraining force. That ubiquitous phrase “this is the way we have always done it” is the death knell for effective change and response to an evolving marketplace.  It is imperative that staff at all levels become increasingly comfortable operating in the “gray”.   It’s natural to desire a clear direction and sense of control in our day to day work.  After all, the unknown can be intimidating.  But while it’s certainly comforting to have specific instructions provided at work, a constant need for clarity can limit the potential of any team. Changing habits can be hard and removing enablers of old habits is a critical talent shift if positive change and response is to occur.

Seeking Interdependence As We Celebrate Independence Day

Seeking Interdependence As We Celebrate Independence Day

This week, much of the United States will take a day off to celebrate Independence Day. As our history books attest, independence is hard-won. Independence requires a belief in the possibility of a life different from the status quo and the courage to act on that possibility.  

As a voracious reader, I have spent quite a bit of time seeking to understand our history and the evolution of humanity.   I have come to understand that as challenging as the fight for independence was for our country and continues to be for people across the world, in the end, it may be that the harder fought battle is learning how to be interdependent.  It is rare for people to live truly independent lives.  In fact, the most successful, the most fulfilled, seem to have learned the art of reciprocity—building coalitions and healthy relationships that have at their core the hope of mutual success.  The very structure on which our society is built, demands interdependence.  We need to learn to operate comfortably in our interconnected, interdependent environment.

At The Fedcap Group, we use the tag line “better together” quite a bit. 

We mean it. 

We have brought over twenty companies together under one umbrella, because we believe our interdependence is the foundation for organizational stability, sustainability and long-term impact.

In our day to day work, our goal is to help those we serve build successful, interdependent lives.  Our efforts in helping people find jobs, overcome addiction, and achieve educational success require teaching those we serve the art of interdependence—how to ask for and receive help, how to trust, how to develop and then rely on on a community of support, and how to work together to achieve a goal. 

So this week, as many celebrate our independence, I invite you to consider the idea of celebrating our interdependence—in the end we may be stronger for it!

Technology as a Catalyst for Employee Engagement

Technology as a Catalyst for Employee Engagement

“Networks are the new companies.” –Harold Jarche


Employee engagement is the measure of an employee’s connection to the mission of their organization and commitment to bringing their best every day. Strong engagement means employees feel they have a say in the business of the organization and they feel they are a part of something larger than themselves. Engaged employees are essential to the growth and success of an organization. They will drive innovation, they will be motivated to stretch beyond their limits, and they will act as owners of the business, deeply invested in its impact and success.

Sadly, research reflects that only 30% of employees feel actively engaged with their organization. Fifty percent are passively engaged, and 20% reported that they are “actively disengaged.” A business cannot thrive, and certainly cannot make an impact if these are its employee statistics.

For an employee to feel engaged, they must enjoy ongoing interaction and collaboration with their colleagues. They must be consistently motivated—and challenged—by their colleagues and their leaders. They must feel safe and comfortable in their work environment. They must receive recognition in a way that truly makes them feel as if they are making a difference, and they must feel they can express themselves authentically and make mistakes without fear of reprisal.

The Fedcap Group is comprised of 17 different companies—each with its own mission, and each with its own unique history and culture. Our geographic footprint stretches—for now—across the United States and the United Kingdom. And yet, we all are united in a common mission to improve the long-term self-sufficiency and social well-being of the impoverished and disadvantaged. Underscoring our united mission is a structure so sturdy that no matter where our employees are geographically or where they sit within the company, mechanisms are in place to shrink time and distance so that there is intentional collaboration and interaction—cornerstones of employee engagement.

Technology is obviously an integral part of most businesses. At The Fedcap Group, we are intentional about using it specifically to enhance employee engagement. The choices we make to grow our technology are always made with the caveat that whatever we choose will support collaboration, interaction, innovation, and drive. Salesforce™ tells the story of our relationships with contractors and stakeholders. Oracle unites our employees with a common language around financials, procurement, and human capital management. Our intranet is a consistent point of outreach to engage employees in questions and opportunities for recognition and topics relevant to our mission.

As we have become more and more intentional about using technology as a tool for employee engagement, there has been a marked increase in employee retention, learning, and professional growth. The result is more innovation, more drive, and more solutions to tough problems. Communication, collaboration, integration, and common language all culminate in an environment where we are better united in our mission and active support—not only of those we serve, but also each other, resulting in strong engagement across the organization.

Employment is the First Step In Climbing the Career Ladder

Employment is the First Step In Climbing the Career Ladder

At The Fedcap Group, we are committed to improving the long-term self-sufficiency and social well-being of the disadvantaged and vulnerable.

The first step to economic self-sufficiency is employment.  For many of those we serve, finding a job that pays minimum wage is cause for great celebration as it is the first time many have held a job at all.   I have been privileged to observe the remarkable sense of accomplishment in the faces of those holding their first paycheck.  Our expectation is that the first job is the first step on the career ladder—where ultimately those we serve are able to own a home, support their family and send their kids to college.   We work to imbue the sense of possibilities that comes from joining the workforce.

That said, staying at minimum wage is never the goal.  We at The Fedcap Group know that most individuals making minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom home and struggle to pay for food, child care, clothing and health care.  We understand that many of these workers are supplementing their income by taking second and third jobs and tapping into a variety of federal, state and local benefits.  We work closely with individuals to access SNAP, HUD and other government benefits because we know that they can make all of the difference in feeding a family.

We also understand that when a worker is offered a raise, they can lose eligibility for these benefits and actually be worse off than before the raise.  This phenomenon is known as the “cliff effect.”

At The Fedcap Group we spend a lot of time talking about how to innovate our programming to address these stark realities.   We consider all of the ways we can help advance how rapidly individuals climb the career ladder, thereby reducing their need for government benefits and eliminating the cliff effect.   We study job sector information from the Department of Labor and build partnerships with employers in industries where there are significant growth projections.  Our Career Design School trains workers and offers certifications in fields where there is significant demand for employees – resulting in promotional opportunities.  We work with business to develop employer-based training so that individuals we place in these businesses can “hit the ground running” and thereby earn raises more rapidly.

We offer Job Clubs, where individuals who have obtained employment can join with others recently employed, to discuss issues on the job, ways to advance their success and resolve conflict.  We push out suggestions via text and e-mail for online learning, classes at community colleges, our own ongoing training opportunities—seeking to underscore the importance of continuous learning as part of the pathway to long term self-sufficiency.

We have designed web-based curriculum including PrepNOW!  and Get Ready! to promote college attendance—creating another pathway to long term self-sufficiency. 

We have spent time examining the characteristics of individuals who are able to move past minimum wage to a salary that can result in self-sufficiency—and we intentionally find ways to integrate the building of these characteristics into our work readiness skill building activities.

And we evaluate our impact.  Do these activities make a difference?  Are we seeing changes in long term self-sufficiency?  

Our results are promising.  We see that training in high-growth sectors, smartly designed work readiness activities, creative business relationships, and accessible online college readiness curricula are resulting in higher salaries, savings accounts and food and housing security.

The climb to long term economic well-being for the chronically unemployed or people with disabilities is not easy.  At the Fedcap Group, we believe that success is the shared responsibility of the individual served and the systems that serve them.  

Do you have additional thoughts on how to help the impoverished climb the career ladder?