There are two well documented fundamentals that are already in force in the world of work that have a profound influence on how employees need to be prepared for the workplace of tomorrow. Firstly, the accelerating rate of change in the workplace brought about by technology and secondly, the soft skills that allow employees and organisations to effectively navigate and leverage the change and disruption that is taking place.
The January 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) report titled: The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution says:
“Disruptive changes to business models will have a profound impact on the employment landscape over the coming years. Many of the major drivers of transformation currently affecting global industries are expected to have a significant impact on jobs, ranging from significant job creation to job displacement, and from heightened labour productivity to widening skills gaps. In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate…”1
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, “as organisations increasingly need to become more dynamic, interconnected and flexible, soft skills are critical and executives now consider these skills important to fostering employee retention, improving leadership, and building a meaningful organisational culture.” 2
The role of soft skills in tomorrow’s workforce
The dictionary definition of soft skills is: personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Employees’ soft skills complement their hard skills, and help an organisation use its technical expertise to full advantage. So, an employee with well-developed soft skills will play a very important role in the success of an organisation. When your workforce has plenty of technical skills but an absence of soft skills, you have what is known as a soft skills gap.
Like hard skills, soft skills require a lot of practice in order for employees to be really skilled at using them. Fortunately, one can train and develop soft skills in your employees. However, it is typically much more difficult than teaching hard skills. The measure of success in developing soft skills is how well your employees manage the relationships with those around them including co-workers, as well as customers and service providers.
Here are four tips for teaching soft skills to your employees and changing your corporate culture in the process:
Tip #1: Walk the talk
Management should model the behaviour they want to see in their employees. Soft skills come naturally to some people, but you can’t expect your employees to practice these skills if you are not demonstrating them yourself. For example, when a challenge or less-than-ideal situation arises at the office, show your problem solving or conflict resolution skills. Your employees will be watching.
Tip #2: Educate and train
If necessary, provide management training on soft skills followed by training sessions for employees on each of the soft skills you want them to learn. Some employees may need soft skills training in particular areas. Other employees may need refinement in other areas.
Soft skills training topic areas may include:
- Problem solving
- Presentation skills
- Time management
- Interpersonal skills
- Leadership skills
- Business etiquette
- Communication skills
- The art of receiving criticism
- How to be more flexible
- Improving self-confidence
Tip #3: Reward (and hire) employees based on their soft skills
Any new skill requires ongoing training and disciplined practice to improve. If you give your employees a chance to learn and adopt new soft skills, and to put them into practice over time they will become second nature. You could give your employees a full year to incorporate these soft skills into their work-life plan, tracking their progress through an incentivized program in which they have to illustrate that they are using the skills. An incentive and reward system for the employees who are meeting or exceeding the goals of adopting the soft skills will consolidate the learning.
Ultimately, there is nothing that can replace a natural or near-natural ability to use these skills, so look for these soft skills in the new people you appoint.
Tip #4: Build soft skill development into regular performance reviews
Incorporate your employees’ soft skill progress into employee performance reviews. This is an appropriate time to talk about their soft skills progress and any improvement needed, along with any other issues that should need to be tackled.3
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