Soft skills must go! Well, perhaps not the skills themselves but the name and how you position them. This may seem like a rash declaration, but the bottom line of your organisation depends on taking this leap. Many companies are already suffering from emaciated L&D budgets and are faced with a constant uphill struggle to keep workplace training going and prove its worth.
As experts in HR and L&D, we are well aware of how important these fields are to a well-managed company, but being considered ‘soft’ works against them, and detracts from their value. Before getting into L&D, I was head of a large business sector, and know from experience that focus on customer needs is central to expanding your top line, while attention to the bottom line is necessary to secure yearly profits. However, at the time I didn’t see the importance of soft skills – admittedly, this was down to my own lack of understanding due to little evidence of their benefits and, of course, the name. In my opinion, a two-pronged attack is required to get the most from ‘soft skills’: first, they must be renamed, and secondly, their real impact must be measured.
A new term for soft skills would turn the tide and highlight the important impact they have on overall business success. By redefining these skills, those people in your organisation signing off the budget will give them more credence. Interpersonal Skills, Leadership Skills and Critical Skills have all been suggested as more appropriate alternative names.
In the modern workplace where every activity must be directly linked to a result, it is odd that about the only factor whose impact is not measured is soft skills. Not surprisingly, research has found that 69% of those delivering training said their business managers don’t see a significant link between effective manager training and increased business performance. If soft skills are to be taken seriously then their effect must be measured quantitatively against overall business objectives, as is the case for technical training.
Have a meeting with your training provider and share ideas about how you will give soft skills the platform they need to be used properly. Consider what ‘success’ looks like in practical terms and how this looks alongside other business objectives such as increased productivity and reduced staff turnover. By quantifying this impact, client and suppliers can work together in a much more effective manner, and achieve mutual benefit, with suppliers having a thorough understanding of what changes have taken place as a result of their training, and the client knowing exactly where outgoings have gone.
Measurement methods needn’t be complex: on top of 360s, staff satisfaction surveys and interviews, be sure to collect business performance data – i.e. sales, productivity, client satisfaction – at regular intervals before and after training, which will give you what you need to correlate any changes you see with what you did.
When soft skills have been fully embraced by a company there will be a handful of noticeable behaviours being exhibited by managers:
- Proactivity in dealing with team-building, performance and dysfunctional behaviour
- Building trust and engagement
- Providing clarity through communication
- Delegating and managing performance
- Comfortably and honestly giving feedback
- Willingness to have difficult conversations, therefore avoiding escalation
- Knowing how to get the best from each individual
- Creating high-performing and accountable teams
- Coaching teams to develop for the future
- Coaching themselves to develop for the future
Being an expert of soft skills is not easy, particularly when the preconceptions of others about what they involve makes it hard to get the investment in training. This is exacerbated by the unhelpful name ‘soft skills’ are usually known by, and the lack of evidence of their many benefits. For HR and L&D professionals, the time has come to redefine and reclaim soft skills, and make them known as essentials for companies to reach the next level.
About the author: Stephen Fortune joined the Oxford Group in 2016 as a Principal Consultant. His experience extends across a range of high profile projects and clients including The Children’s Trust, ED&F Man, Gilead, Novartis, Legal & General, Rabobank, Johnson Press, Sainsbury’s and William Hill and now The Oxford Group.
The Oxford Group is a people-focused business driven by a passion for helping organisations get the best from their people, unleash hidden talent and successfully manage their business through times of change. The Oxford Group is part of The City & Guilds Group, a global leader in skills development, which enables people and organisations to develop their skills for personal and economic growth. For more information, please visit: www.oxford-group.com