Back to Basics: Soft skills as a focus of EA programmes in the workplace | EAPA-SA

Soft skills are becoming the new hard skills – they are not an optional extra. They are must-have skills for employees, managers and executives who are looking to improve their performance and get to the next level in their careers.  Soft skills are what separate high performers from average performers.  Similarly, an organisation’s ability to perform in these areas is what separates excellent organisations from average organisations.1

Research conducted by LinkedIn shows that some of the most in-demand skills today are soft skills. It is no longer enough to be highly trained in technical skills, without having the interpersonal and relationship-building skills that help employees collaborate effectively. 2 As a result, soft skills development is finally gaining traction as a priority for most organisations, beyond only executive and leadership development programmes.

Here are the top 10 soft skills organisations are looking for:

  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Teamwork
  • Punctuality
  • Critical thinking
  • Social skills
  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Adaptability
  • Friendliness

Here are three hints to growing employees’ soft skills:

Hire smarter

If you are hiring new employees look for people with a willingness to learn more than just practical skills. This way you will start with employees who want to go where you’re headed – and if need be their hard skills will be easier to train.

Start with a training needs assessment

For a soft skills training needs assessment, start by asking employees to set their own goals. Are they struggling with organizing long-term projects? Do they need help working with difficult suppliers, customers, or colleagues? How would they like to grow in the company?

Start there. This engages employees and gets them personally invested in the training.

Train your employees in soft skills

It can be challenging to devise a training programme for skills that do not have solid lines to define them and training must be relevant to be impactful. With career development at the core of the employee experience, personalisation is critical to engaging a multi-generational workforce with varied learning needs.

What’s more soft skills can’t be learned by just studying about them. They have to be learned through a process of change that can be tricky and uncomfortable at times, but it can have a positive effect on an organisation’s bottom line. The following is the basic overview of a five step process towards training employees in soft skills:

  1. Education

While learning soft skills is not simply academic there still must be an aspect of education on best practices.

  1. Evaluation

Assessments help to evaluate where an employee stands, their areas of strength and areas in which they need improvement as well as to describe the natural tendencies an individual has.

  1. Self-reflection

Once employees have learned more about themselves – their areas of strength and which soft skills they need to develop – it is necessary for them to reflect on what they have learned.

  • Do they understand their natural tendencies and see how they interact with others?
  • Are they willing to put in the effort to grow even though it may be difficult and uncomfortable?
  1. Goal setting

Defining a clear picture of what each employee wants to accomplish for the future is an important next step. This should involve choosing three to five tangible soft skills goals to work toward. These goals should be developed from the information learned through the process, and include feedback from others.  This should then be shared with others (supervisors, direct reports and peers) to enable observers to notice the changes and hold the employee accountable.

  1. Practice

To grow, soft skills have to be put into everyday practice over a long period of time. After a few months, employees working toward change should revisit their goals with their fellow employees to allow the team in training to gauge the progress that has been made.

This soft skills training process can be done on an individual basis or in groups; it can be completed internally or with an outside facilitator.  The key takeaway is that it is a process. It’s very different to hard skills training and can take some time. In the end, the time invested will be worth it, both to the employees involved and to the organisation.