Communication, teamwork, problem solving, attitude, leadership, professionalism. They are typically called "soft skills" and are vital to the success of any organization. The good news is that they can be learned and developed, just like hard skills.
Four key reasons to consider investing in soft-skills training
Reason #1: "Soft skills" is a misnomer
They aren't really soft. They are sometimes hard, and always important, leaving these skills sets with a bit of an image problem. In this article, Morgan Browning says, "Every one of those skills is absolutely critical to success in today's business environment, and calling them 'soft' subtly diminishes their importance."
As early as 1993, a study demonstrated that soft skills training can be tied to productivity measures and ROI evaluated.
In the past decade, much of the research and many of the best-selling business books opt for the phrase "Emotional Intelligence" instead, EI for short. Which helps with the image issue a bit.
Reason #2: Research shows how critically important they are
Laura Wilcox lays it out nicely in her article Emotional Intelligence Is No Soft Skill, reminding us that emotional intelligence "accounts for nearly 90 percent of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar."
A number of interpersonal skills and attributes have a demonstrable impact on performance:
- relationship building
- effective collaboration
- ability to jointly solve problems
- clear communication
- ability to make mutually beneficial decisions
- ethics and integrity
The above list is according to this well-researched article in Supply Chain Quarterly. (Even if you aren't that interested in supply chain, the case studies and results make it a compelling read.)
Reason #3: They can be learned
Daniel Goleman is a superstar in the study of IE, and he says that these abilities can be learned. What's required is brain re-training. In adulthood we have to undo, at the brain level, over-rehearsed habitual ways of reacting and build new ones until they become more strongly practiced than the old ones. With practice, you eventually start to do the new habits naturally.
For example, he calls poor listening skills the common cold of leadership and offers a positive alternative to practice instead.
It's not easy to replace deeply ingrained habits related to, say, communication style or relationship building, but the researchers all agree that it can be done.
Reason #4: They can be measured
Unlike hard skills, there are no tests you can take to prove that you have mastered them. But that doesn't mean that they aren't measurable. Jack Phillips, PhD and Patti Phillips, PhD of the ROI Institute writes, "Soft skills programs should perform just like any other learning program. If the learning is designed to be applied, it should be applied in the work environment with an action, activity, or behavior change. If it is designed to drive business impact, then it should drive business impact which is a consequence of that activity. From the impact, the ROI can be calculated."
To get a good read on a person's soft skill set, a great tool to consider is a 360-degree feedback assessment. This evaluation method figuratively places an individual at the center of a circle, and then gathers feedback from those around who are in a position to observe the individual's performance: supervisors, direct reports, peers, customers, suppliers, and others.
HR-Software has a nice list of vendors who can provide this service; you typically want a 3rd party to administer any 360-degree assessments to ensure confidentiality. It involves asking a number of people who interact professionally with the individual to fill out an online survey, and then the results are tabulated and formatted into a report.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I recommend the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.
You might also check out How Soft Skills Can Help You Land a Job by MastersInCommunications.org. They remind us that soft skills apply to all aspects of life: being a better communicator and listener is a priceless skill for every type of human relationship.
If you are ready to get started with some soft skills training, start by designing a training plan. Are you trying to drive business impact? What areas are you trying to improve and how will you know if the training has made a difference? Who will participate in training, when and how? Then find some soft skills training courses that are aligned with your organizational needs. And finally, measure! Figure out if your plan is working. Adjust as you go, and have fun with it!
Virtual training can be an effective part of your soft skills training plan. To learn more about the benefits of virtual training, download our complimentary eBook: Choosing a Virtual-Training Method that Meets Your Needs.