A few years back, I was talking with the VP of human resources at one of our client companies. We were discussing a succession planning project for one of her company’s top executives who was retiring, and she had a great observation.

“I am confident that Diego will learn the technical aspects of the business,” she said. “Financials and pricing, the deal structure, and the other data-driven pieces will not be a problem. But I’m worried about Diego’s ability to take on the relational aspects of the job. How do we transfer that knowledge?”


Succession Planning for Soft Skills Training

I get this question a lot – understandably. Soft skills, much like culture, are difficult to pin down, let alone teach. But you CAN do it with the right plan.


 Soft Skills Training: Preserving Executive Secret Sauce 1


My answer was that we were not going to talk about relationships in the academic or general sense. That would be too fluffy. Instead, we would talk about the practical ways that relationships develop.

Listing and Building Individual Relationships

We would start by listing the actual names of the actual people that Michael – the departing executive – had relationships with. Then, we would use my firm’s 20 Test Questions to help Michael give Diego his best advice on how to build a relationship with each of these key players.


Example Questions To Ask for Soft Skill Training

To illustrate this, I used a hypothetical colleague named “Miko.” Michael would advise Diego on building a relationship with Miko using our test questions as a guide. Here are some examples.  

Test Question #2: What are the steps in the process of building of a relationship with Miko, and why is each important?

Michael could say: “Well, I would start by reading her documents, or I would start with meeting her admin, or I’d start with buying her a coffee.” These are very different approaches to starting a relationship with somebody, and Michael would give advice on the best way to do that.

Test Question #3: What are the top 3 things that often go wrong when someone is trying to build a relationship with Miko?

Michael: “Well, if you come in with a lot of talking, and a lot of ego, and a lot of bravado, she will shut you down in 30 seconds and never give you another chance. What I recommend is that you come in with (fill in the blank).” This would help Diego learn what he ought to do, and what he should avoid.  

Test Question #18: What should I look for and listen for when building a relationship with Miko?

Michael: “During the quarterly business review, Miko has X kinds of pressures that she’s under. Being aware of this will really help you decide when to approach her and how.”

Test Questions #19: What are the relevant historical issues to consider when building a relationship with Miko?

Michael: “Miko’s been with our company for X years. She comes with Y background. This is her point of view on things and why we value it.” For example, if Miko came through an acquisition, she might have a very different take than somebody who grew up in the company. And that kind of history could be important.


Find Out More About Executive Succession Planning

These are just a few examples of the questions you can use to define what makes your top talent executives effective and how you can plan the transferring of those soft skills. And even more importantly, they will enable your executives to transfer these softer skills with the same degree of rigor one would expect of more technical areas.

Learn more about our Executive Succession Planning process here.