Over the past few years, companies have begun to transform their employee education programs to make training a more holistic learning experience. While most employee training has traditionally focused on technical or functional knowledge and skills (for example, product knowledge, software or equipment, safety, and compliance), new initiatives are highlighting the need to focus on soft skills. The role of data analysts, for example, is shifting from a heavily technical role to more of a creative, storytelling role, become less about programming and more about pattern recognition; less about data mining, and more about finding and articulating insights.
A growing request of learning and development professionals is to uncover these types of soft skills needs—skills that are often assumed, overlooked, or undervalued.
Another way to think about soft skills is to view them as durable skills that are useful across nearly all applications in the business setting. The development of soft skills focuses on areas such as employee creativity, adaptability, and emotional intelligence to improve collaboration and overall business success. Soft skills are an investment that, if done right, can continue to contribute to the professional development of employees and the agility required in today’s businesses. Here are some of the areas to focus on when considering soft skill training for your workforce.
1. Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is defined as our ability to manage our emotions and the emotions of others. In a workplace environment, this is a priceless skill to have. Coworkers with high EI are able to work with both teammates and customers better and can better foster meaningful relationships.
2. Adaptability. Employees who are able to easily adapt to new workplace situations (think COVID-19, remote work) are invaluable. Now more than ever, we are seeing massive changes to the business world. Training employees on how to adapt and change to new mission-critical—and often expedited—processes is something that learning and development teams need to anticipate and be ready for.
3. Creativity. Creativity is often considered a “you-have-it-or-you-don’t” quality; however, research show that people can learn how to be creative. Include activities that involve solving problems, creating systems, or just trying something that employees haven’t tried before.
4. Storytelling. Stories are proven way to communicate, making content much easier to remember and stimulating imagination and curiosity. Stories increase attention and engagement. We all need to learn and practice storytelling skills, especially when trying to communicate in a world of ever-increasing data, information, noise.
There are a variety of ways you can embed soft skills into training programs, but we recommend you start by establishing empathy with your learners and discovering what they need and where they have gaps. For emotional intelligence, this can be a simple questionnaire or survey of your employees asking questions such as “how do you handle your stress?” or “how is your mood influenced by events that take place in the workplace?”
Look for signs of creativity and storytelling in action or, conversely, a hesitation to offer ideas or difficulty being understood. Is there a lack of involvement by certain team members during brainstorming sessions? What can you embed in your training programs, regardless of whether a course is specifically about creativity or storytelling, to help employees practice and become comfortable with ideation and sharing ideas.
Regarding adaptability, review how your employees have fared over the last year. In what ways was the transition to a virtual environment easy or difficult? Are there soft skills that would help, for example, empathy, resilience, humility? Believe it or not, these skills can be learned. Maybe it’s time for real-life soft skill training.
Once you have a better understanding of what soft skills are needed, then consider what solutions to implement. While you can develop training programs that focus solely on soft skills, we recommend a blended learning approach that introduces durable skills alongside other training. For example, providing opportunities for employees to take on tasks outside of their comfort zone is a great way to foster adaptability growth. If you support your learners during the process of transitioning into a new area of your business, you can guarantee they will be ready for real-world adaptations. To foster more creativity, implement activities into all training programs that encourage learners to think independently and act creatively. One great way to do this is through gamification, which often allows the user to make unique, unguided decisions, and face the consequences of said decisions later. This strategy is also great for improving emotional intelligence (EI).
Combining soft and hard skill training is a great way to build talent from the ground up, ensuring that employees are able to apply what they learning to their work. Keep a clear perspective on your employees’ day-in-the-life and what soft skills can help them and your company. Equip employees to play the “long game” with the right skills to continually improve business outcomes.