Should you hire soft skills or talent? Marcel Magermans, founding owner of MMID, is sharing a personal blog on building a team to solve complex challenges:
I am proud of each of my three children. Each is completely different from one another and also different from my wife and I. To be honest, I sometimes ask myself if the third one is actually my kid. Fortunately, he looks most like me out of all of them so, after years of wondering, I am finally convinced that he is a pure Magermans bloke. The beauty of having such different monsters is that it is never boring. As a consequence of their inherent differences, I have been forced to change the way I manage my familial horde. The youngest is probably going to be a designer of some sort, the middle one studies international business, and the oldest (the woman of the trio) will join the selective ranks of Harvard University STEM graduates this spring. When Lillian was accepted to Harvard, we really had no idea of what an honor it is; we are extremely Dutch and our experience with the USA was limited to what we heard in the news and the travel stories that our friends told. I soon learned. My daughter inherited a tremendous intelligence exclusively from her mother yet, despite my pride and belief in her ability, I still wondered why she was invited to wear Harvard crimson.
Over the last four years, I met a lot of top-tier university students from throughout the United States in both professional contexts and within Lilian’s circle of close friends. Some of these young people are undoubtedly future global leaders in their respective fields. They all share an eagerness and deep intelligence but what struck me most is that their individual interests and skillsets are pretty widespread on a per capita basis. What is the commonality? Soft skills. Meeting these students confirmed my belief that personal development hinges on the lifelong development of one’s ability to interact with people. Personal success is not about technical talent or being super intelligent.
When MMID initially began to expand to meet the needs of our multinational clientele, our focus was simply on hiring people that are open, honest, able to cooperate, and good communicators among other attributes. We really just wanted to fill the company with good people that we wanted to work with every day. When Caspar Steenhuijsen joined as partner almost 15 years ago, he professionalized the practice into what is now a system where staff are rated across ten core competences. While one or two of the metrics are technically focused, the rest measure an employee’s personal development in what are typically considered soft skills. It is now one of the most valuable tools we have.
Of course MMID is filled with extremely intelligent, creative, and talented people. It goes without saying that these three hallmarks are critical and are undeniable features of all MMID employees however I’ve yet to enter a point in my career where it is hard to willingly find or even blindly stumble across intelligent or creative people. On the other hand, it is much harder to find people that are good at being people.
MMID is, was, and always will be looking for those people that understand the importance of their personal development as human beings. I strongly believe that when that understanding is present, relevant talents will also flourish as a consequence. Some large organizations like Harvard understand this very well. Other colleges and universities should emphasise more on developing these skills instead of imparting technical knowledge on their students as it will help those students tremendously later in their career. People should, first and foremost, have a deep well of empathy and should understand emotion, the successful expression of opinions, and how to navigate through complex interpersonal situations; this understanding is more important in innovation than having brilliant ideas. The latter is nice but failing to understand the human side of something like a go-to-market strategy is a sure path to failure. We learned this the hard way and now are proud to say that a vast majority of what we design and develop every year makes it to market. I almost entirely attribute this market resonance to the ongoing development of the soft skills of our staff instead of a blind focus on acquiring sheer talent.
We hire human beings.