“Hard to Find: Workers With Good ‘Soft Skills’,” was the focus of a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal. According to this article “companies across the US say it is becoming increasingly difficult to find applicants who can communicate clearly, take initiative, problem-solve and get along with co-workers.” Other research shows similar trends. A recent report, “Leveling Up: How to Win In the Skills Economy” based on a study by PayScale Human Capital, sheds light on skills that companies seek and that many college graduates are lacking. Missing soft skills at the top of their list include critical thinking/problem solving, attention to detail, communication, leadership, ownership and teamwork. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) even weighed in on this challenge. In the article titled, “HR’s Hard Challenge: When Employees Lack Soft Skills“, they note that: “soft skills – which are needed to effectively communicate, problem-solve, collaborate and organize – are becoming more important for success as the workplace evolves socially and technologically.”
This skills gap is real and impacts a company in a variety of ways. Many employees at all levels don’t have the skills they need to work well together to keep the company on the leading edge. Leaders claim they are not ‘a people person’, effecting their ability to effectively communicate and build relationships with their teams. As a result, the work environment becomes less engaging and less productive. Some of your best and most promising talent leave. You’re left with an even bigger ‘skills gap’ that you frantically, and often unsuccessfully, try to close. The long-term performance of the organization is at stake.
Soft skills are tough to hire for and tough to train on. Companies are finding both creative ways to test applicants for these skills, and are investing in training. Is it worth it? According to the SHRM article mentioned above, “research from the Hay Group revealed that managers who incorporate a range of soft skills into their leadership approach can increase their team’s performance by as much as 30%.” Employees feel more connected to the organization, their team, and feel a greater sense of value and self-worth.
Solutions for Companies
How can your company close your soft skills gap and get AHEAD in creating an environment where employees like to work and your organization can thrive?
Assess – Assess where you stand on the soft skills you have identified as most important for the culture and work to be done within your company.
Hire – Evaluate your hiring practices. Incorporate questions that focus not only on technical skills, but also soft skills.
Expectations – Establish expectations for the how soft skills show up in the values, competencies and behaviors that define your culture. Ensure that these expectations are communicated broadly and in a way that all employees can relate to.
Accountability – Hold leaders and employees accountable for developing their soft skills and for integrating them in their daily interactions. Recognize and reward employees who are making an intentional effort and are progressing.
Develop – Offer soft skills development opportunities for employees, especially in your leadership pipeline, through training, direct experience and mentoring.
Solutions for Professionals
If you are an individual contributor, what can you do to develop your soft skills? Take these steps to personally get AHEAD.
Awareness – Become aware of your strengths and the soft skills you need to further develop. Be attentive to the reactions of others in your interactions. Ask for feedback from your manager, peers or team members. Work with a mentor who can advise you of specific soft skills and how to apply them in your organizational culture.
Heart – Take this seriously. Put your heart into growing yourself in this area.
Educate – Identify books, articles, and training workshops that will help you deepen your knowledge of the soft skills you wish to develop. Work with a mentor on specific areas or goals.
Accountable – Take responsibility for your actions. Give it an all out effort to improve. Make a plan for the soft skills you want to work on, aligning with those that are a priority for your company and particular role. Start with a goal to work on one skill. Don’t overwhelm yourself or others who are on the receiving end.
Demonstrate – Put your plan into action. Be intentional about applying soft skills in your daily interactions. See how it works and try again. Be aware of the progress you’re making. Celebrate even the smallest victories.
Though we use the term ‘soft skills’, they ultimately have a hard impact on the bottom line. Make closing the soft skills gap a priority in your company or in your personal career. The results will help you get AHEAD and stay AHEAD.
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Your Career Empowerment Coach
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