It’s a competitive world out there. Your business is striving every day to outperform your competitors.
That might mean lower pricing, better website design, or more engaging content. But it’s not easy to find new ideas that will differentiate you from the rest.
Maybe you’ve invested in excellent communications, including the best business VoIP plans. You may even have invested in better job-related training.
But do your employees have the right skills for success? Not just hard skills like technical knowledge – we’re talking soft skills.
92% of talent professionals say that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when they’re hiring.
80% also say soft skills are increasingly important to company success.
And Deloitte forecasts that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.
What does that all mean? If you’re not nurturing your employees’ soft skills, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity to make your business more successful.
So, what can you do?
- What are soft skills?
- What are the soft skills you should be looking for?
- 7 ways to develop soft skills in the workplace
- Soft skills help your business perform better
What are soft skills?
Hard skills refer to the job-related skills your staff have, from qualifications to vocational training and abilities. Soft skills are more about how employees work and interact with other people. In sociology, soft skills are often referred to as a person’s EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) rather than their IQ (intelligence quotient).
A good way to think about soft skills is that they refer to who someone is, instead of what they know. But this doesn’t mean soft skills are set in stone. You can help someone to develop better soft skills than those they naturally have.
As the world of business is so competitive, you need your staff to have a good balance between hard and soft skills. They know how to do their job efficiently, but they also need to know how to work as part of a team. And, how to interact positively with customers and other team members.
So, how exactly do you help your staff to develop these essential soft skills? We present 7 ways to help you to help them.
Best soft skills to look for in an employee
Before looking at tangible ways to develop these skills, let’s consider the particular skills you want your staff to possess. These may vary according to your business model and what you need from your team, but having an idea of your goals can help you set out a plan.
The right attitude is essential for a harmonious workforce. Are your staff willing to go the extra mile to achieve company goals or help a colleague? How do they react when facing new challenges, people, and scenarios? How do they handle feedback?
Employees need to communicate well at every level, including speaking, listening, and presenting. As well as developing positive relationships with colleagues and customers, they may need to communicate with stakeholders and other businesses.
Timekeeping is an important skill for an efficient business, from being punctual for work to completing tasks in the allotted time. You can also evaluate whether your staff is well-prepared for meetings, daily team tasks, and individual tasks.
Another useful soft skill is the ability to solve problems, especially when faced with new or difficult challenges. This extends to handling conflict or disagreements in the workplace. It’s best if staff can sort things out themselves, but know when it’s time to escalate the issue to a manager.
It’s important that staff have collaborative skills, enabling them to avoid silos and work well as a team. This may include cross-departmental teamwork. If they can learn how to work together, your projects will run much more smoothly.
Every team needs a leader. Can you identify the staff members who would excel at leading others? Leadership also involves effective decision-making, whether alone or as part of a collaborative process.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list but gives you a good idea of the soft skills you should nurture and develop. You can prioritize the skills that will benefit your organization the most.
For example, if your company is very sales-orientated, then you will want your sales team to be proficient at communications.
7 ways to develop soft skills in the workplace
So, you have your priority list. You know which skills you want to improve. How do you integrate development and learning into your workplace and see tangible results in your business’s performance?
Before you begin building a training plan, you need to assess the needs of your workforce and identify gaps at the company and individual levels. Assessment should include perceptions from management/supervisors but also an element of self-perception, though staff may not always accurately identify skills gaps.
Make sure you’re aware of any difference between your assessment and self-perception. This is essential if team members are to be ready to start the improvement journey. Having someone acknowledge that there is room for improvement is an essential part of the puzzle.
Another crucial aspect is that no one should be exempt from this initial assessment process. It shouldn’t matter whether the person is the CFO or a junior assistant in the dispatch department. This is not just about improving a few individuals; it’s about improving your company.
Of course, the next question is how do you assess? Many traditional methods used by your HR department for new hires are not as effective as you may think. Companies increasingly look to online tools, many of which are free. These tools can remove any bias or subjectivity from person-to-person assessment.
2. Create soft skill learning plans
You should now have two lists. One should contain the soft skills you want to prioritize, and the other should identify skills gaps across your workforce. Ideally, you want to build a learning plan that meets the needs of both these lists while not interfering with daily business operations.
There are several essential criteria you should consider when developing any learning plan. Thanks to the multitude of online and remote learning opportunities now available, it should be relatively simple to achieve these criteria.
Different employees will have different skills gaps and thus different training needs. So, any learning plan should focus on the needs of each individual. There may be a good deal of crossover needs but generally, you will be looking at individual learning plans.
Teach real skills that staff can use
There is little point in teaching soft skills in a way that is disconnected from how your business operates, so ensure there is a connection. For example, if you are teaching communication skills, make sure that they are taught in a way that relates to how they will use them, such as in sales.
Don’t overload your staff with new ideas or processes. Construct a learning plan that not only allows them to learn at a pace that suits them but will also encourage knowledge retention so they can apply it in real-life scenarios.
Good feedback loops
You may not get learning plans right the first time. And what people are learning may still sometimes be disconnected from what they need. Set up an actionable feedback loop so that staff can say what is working and what’s not, so that you, and they, can improve on every level.
3. Identify leaders and mentors
As part of your assessment process, and as part of the ongoing learning process, you will identify individuals with strong leadership qualities. Some of those individuals may be existing parts of your leadership structure. Others you may decide to earmark as future leaders. However, they can be utilized now as part of any continuous learning program.
Having a mentorship process as part of your learning program can benefit several levels. For the mentors themselves, it can further develop those leadership skills and also instill confidence in their ability to lead. For the mentees, it can help them in areas of soft skill development where they may be struggling. Informal support may be just what they need.
If you are a larger organization, the reality is that your workflows may be very fluid. Depending on a particular project, you may need to assign someone who has not been in a formal leadership role before. Identifying potential leaders as part of your soft skills development program means you could be able to improve workflow management later on.
4. Reflective practice
Reflective practice is a skill that has long been used in areas such as healthcare and social work but is being increasingly applied in other sectors too. By including the teaching of the reflective cycle in your soft skills program, you are enabling your staff to be better at self-assessment and self-improvement.
When people make mistakes, they are often repeated if those mistakes are not pointed out to them. By utilizing reflection, people can see those mistakes themselves. They can give careful consideration to what those mistakes were, and how they could do things differently the next time they are undertaking a similar or identical task.
While normally an exercise that people do themselves, it can be incorporated into one-on-one meetings with mentors, supervisors, or managers. This can be especially useful in the early stages of using reflection. People can find it easier to adapt to the reflective cycle when they are initially guided through it.
5. Outsource where possible
Unless you are a very large organization, you will not want to invest funds and resources in your soft skills program. For a start, you may not have staff members who have the skills needed to deliver such a program. Secondly, starting from scratch means you face a steep learning curve.
There are now many organizations that focus on teaching soft skills. That teaching may take place in virtual environments, while some will conduct in-person teaching. Others may adopt a hybrid approach. Your choice is going to depend on your budget, your needs, and what is available in your area.
A business such as a call center may have in-house training. After all, they very much depend on high proficiency in several soft skills as they are talking to customers, and potential customers, all day. There are many automated tools such as interactive voice response (IVR) that do some of their work for them. But ultimately the customer will usually want to talk to a real person.
6. Verbal vs. non-verbal
Communication is one of the most important soft skills your employees can work on. But it’s important to remember that not all communication is verbal. How much you rely on the other forms of communication will depend very much on:
- The type of business you operate
- How your staff usually communicate with customers and suppliers.
a. Writing skills
Focusing on writing skills may sound old-fashioned at first but the reality is that writing is an integral part of how we do business. This can cover everything from emails (replies to customers, queries to suppliers, etc.) to chat messages and notes to other team members or staff working remotely. Ensuring people can communicate promptly, politely, and clearly is essential.
b. Body language
Your staff will likely participate in regular meetings. These could be team meetings, client meetings, supplier meetings, and so on. Some of these meetings may take place in the real world but many may take the form of video conferences. The format doesn’t matter; what does matter is that body language is a crucial part of business communications. You should be including some focus on this in any program.
7. Regularly reassess
It may well be the case that your initial soft skills program is very successful. However, you may have new staff onboarding and old staff leaving regularly. That means you shouldn’t carry out any development program in a vacuum but revisit it often.
This is not just about assessing new staff or looking at new angles. It’s also about reassessing existing staff.
Have they maintained the skills you helped them develop?
Have they retained the knowledge delivered to them?
While you may not have to work with existing staff on the same level, regular ‘checks’ can ensure that your business has the same level of soft skill sets you were aiming for.
Soft skills help your business perform better
Improving the soft skills of your workforce will make you a better, more efficient business. You might develop a training program in-house, outsource to an external provider, or utilize online learning.
But the objective remains the same: Employees who have that perfect balance of hard and soft skills that can benefit your business.
Having a solid base of soft skills across your workforce will help you produce better performance for your business.
What do you think is the most important soft skill in the workplace? Let us know in the comments.
Gerard D’Onofrio is the Country Manager for Dialpad Australia, an AI-equipped cloud-based phone system for businesses to better their communications at work. Gerard is experienced in discovering world-class developments and turning them into effective business advancements, wherever he goes. Here is his LinkedIn.
I’ve been on about skills-based training forever. Sadly education systems around the world seem to be convinced it is 1922, not 2022.