By Mark Gamache
Every organization, even the most rigidly process-oriented, needs its employees to employ skills that aren’t necessarily in their job description. While many job descriptions include some reference to soft skills—e.g., self-starter, communicator, positive attitude—the bulk is dedicated to hard skills.
Training alone will never get your employees where you want them to be and that becomes truer every day as machine intelligence and automation become more prevalent in industries once thought impregnable to the computer threat. Hard skills can only take you so far.
This is only natural. Hard skills are a necessary, but not sufficient condition of employment. They’re just the cost of entry, so to speak.
Ultimately, it is soft skills that will determine if employees succeed in a position, and to what degree. In fact, a Stanford Research Institute/Carnegie Mellon Foundation study of Fortune 500 CEOs established that 75 per cent of their long-term success was derived from soft skills, with the remaining 25 per cent being attributed to their hard skills.
If that is the case—if employees’ success will be driven by their soft skills—then it is important that employers work with employees to develop and enhance them. Doing so will enhance employees to advance in their careers and help the company achieve success by growing future leaders.
What exactly are soft skills?
According to Monster contributor Daniel Bortz they refer to skills that govern human interaction, such as communication, persuasion, and leadership, or the way we respond to our environment, such as resilience, flexibility, and motivation.
Often, the status of our soft skills is governed by our psychological make up and personal experiences. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved.
Investing in knowledge pays the best interest
Sometimes our psychological make-up and life experience can leave us lacking in a particular soft skill. If that’s the case for one of your employees, it’s important to provide them with the tools they’ll need to set themselves up for success. In some cases, that may be classes or other educational opportunities.
For instance, if an employee lacks communications skills, there are a many classes available at community colleges and universities that will provide them with the fundamental skills necessary to communicate in business.
In other cases there may not be classes available to teach a particular soft skill. Instead, it may be necessary to help design systems or offer techniques to help people master a skill. Take motivation for example. It’s hard to teach motivation in a classroom. However, there are many techniques that can help people get motivated (or at least act the same as someone who is motivated). Some people swear by the snowball technique in which you start your day by completing smaller tasks and build momentum that helps you take on larger tasks. Others favor making checklists. Whatever the technique, the value is in having a technique and offering advice to those who may be struggling with this soft skill.
Working out a soft skill muscle
As with everything in life, practice makes perfect. If you want your employees to build up a soft skill, you need to provide them with situations in which they have to apply it.
If you want an employee to develop into a leader, you have to give them the opportunity to lead. That doesn’t mean throwing them into the deep end and making them a manager overnight. But, it does mean providing them with the proper opportunities to develop leadership skills. Perhaps you can assign them a small project, or encourage them to take charge of a non-work related committee.
The key thing is to consistently provide employees with opportunities to strengthen that muscle.
Measure and evaluate soft skills
Employers should work to identify the soft skills that are most important in their company and integrate them into the evaluation process. Since soft skills are by nature and can’t be judged by any concrete output, measurement may require surveying coworkers and other qualitative methods. Soft skills are best measured not at a point in time, but along a trend line. Over a period of time an employee’s true skill level will begin to emerge which will allow you to determine how to make the most of it through constant development.
Employees that can get their point across to colleagues, get a team excited about tackling the massive problem staring them in the face, and bounce back from a failure are worth any investment you make in them. Moreover, those are the skills that companies can’t replace with machine or algorithms, so employees with them will always be in demand.
By cultivating soft skills in your employees, you’re ensuring their continued relevance and your company’s continued success.
For more recruitment tips, or for the latest hiring trends, visit hiring.monster.ca.