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Soft vs. Hard Skills for Today

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Soft vs. Hard Skills for TodayBy Miriam Lieber, President, Lieber Consulting 

I remember the days when technical HME skills were the primary qualities we looked for when hiring staff. “Who has Mrs. Smith’s file?” was the most readily asked question back then. I can still picture the reports printed on a dot matrix printer with green bar paper.

Regardless of the technological advancements, human beings will never be totally replaced.

Today, technology has replaced most of these steps. Paperless offices are a reality. With all the latest technology, including artificial intelligence, we must consider the role of our employees. It is safe to state that regardless of the technological advancements, human beings will never be totally replaced. HME is a high touch business, and quality patient care relies on human intervention for value and satisfaction.

Soft skills vs. hard skills

So, what does all this mean? This means that the notion of “hard skills,” such as technical knowledge and software usage, are no longer the primary qualifier when hiring a candidate. The trend in this employee-based marketplace is to find people with enhanced “soft skills,” meaning communication abilities, motivational skills, empathy, and problem-solving traits.

As I address this topic, I want to make clear that, to me, soft skills have always been underappreciated and devalued. How your employees deal with your patients and communicate with them has always been required for company success. Similarly, having strong leaders with good communication and motivational skills has always been central to a healthy company culture. In other words, no matter how they were looked at in the past, having people with good soft skills has always been as important to your profit as understanding your billing system.

Measuring People Skills

For most companies, once an employee learns their job, they can begin to be measured against metrics and goals. That doesn’t mean that if someone meets or exceeds their goals, they will become the next leader of the department. Soft skills cannot be directly measured by metrics. For example, one HME company employed a highly intelligent and skilled billing representative who excelled at working his A/R report. He always met DSO and collection goals and used analytical skills to outperform his peers. Unfortunately, this employee did not feel comfortable with other people, wasn’t particularly empathetic, and preferred to work autonomously. In other words, he lacked the required soft skills to succeed as a manager and ultimately, when management positions arose, he was passed over. He excelled in one part of a manager’s job but was lacking in the others.

Furthermore, knowing your employees’ skill sets and personality traits is also essential when hiring. As with anything, some people are better teachers and/or leaders and others are better “doers.” Regardless, if the employee is suited for their position and they have the tools and resources to perform their job, they will feel engaged and will more likely meet goals. 

If employees have the requisite people skills, the patient and referral source will also be happy. 

If employees have the requisite people skills, the patient and referral source will also be happy as the employee treats them appropriately, is empathetic to the customer’s situation, and meets their needs.

Finding the Best Fit

The notion that if your people are satisfied, the customer will be satisfied drives the need to grow your staff into the roles that best fit their personality. For example, someone with exemplary soft skills should be in a position that interacts with your patients. That is the precise reason we look for the right seats and skills for staff. Moreover, we also look for leaders who model the behaviors we want others to emulate. We know that not everyone will be cut out to lead and motivate others. Yet, those who want to grow and develop in this way should be identified and trained.

With myriad training opportunities for leaders who need to hone their people skills, time and effort will tell if they are able to cultivate the skills required to lead a group of people. This pertains to not just their metrics, but also if they’re meeting emotional needs. Once the latter is accomplished, the team will feel valued, and this will impact the patient as well.

So, when the question of hard versus soft skill importance comes up, I prefer to use technical versus people skills. The notion of training for technical skills is more straightforward and scalable while people skills require more insight and emotional intelligence. Interestingly, analytical skills are required for both.

Noticeable in the talent found in HME companies is the group of people who possess excellent technical skills and excel in their work for that reason. That doesn’t typically translate to a leader of people who can manage a department. While the two sometimes meet, identifying a people leader separate from a technical skills expert is the key to success in your company. As always, you want to strengthen your employees’ strengths because their success is your success.

Aim to find the following skills in your employeesAim to find the following skills in your employees, and remember, this all starts from the top:

  • Integrity
  • Dependability
  • Effective communication
  • Open-mindedness
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Adaptability
  • Organization
  • Willingness to learn
  • Empathy


VGM Playbook Elevating Performance: Harnessing Human CapitalThis article was originally featured in the VGM Playbook: Elevating Performance: Harnessing Human Capital. To read the full article and more like this, download your copy of the Playbook under Resources in the member's only portal.