If you look at any job description, it’s likely that a variety of soft skills will be listed as a “required qualification.” From “excellent communication skills,” to being a “strong team player,” soft skills are integral to just about every job. In a 2015 Pew Research Center Report, American adults were asked which skills were valuable for children to develop both in life and work – 90 percent said communication skills were most important for children to get ahead in the world today. That said, soft skills often play second fiddle to hard skills. While both are critical to success, we often hire and promote based on hard skills (e.g. what you can do) and consider soft skills a bonus (e.g. how you do it). Our hard skills may be the engine that powers the car, but our soft skills are the steering wheel, allowing us to navigate an often complicated work environment.
For many organizations and teams, it can be difficult to develop and incorporate soft skills into an employee training program. Where do you find the time? How do you develop training without a dedicated training team? How do you make the content stick given everyone’s busy schedules? And most importantly, how do you make people care about soft skills? These are all valid challenges. However, developing these skills within your team or organization doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some ways to weave soft skills development into your organization:
Find expertise across your organization
Training doesn’t have to come from one individual, or even one team. Leveraging the unique skill set of your employees will allow you to offer a breadth of courses. You may find that the product team can lead a session on project management, or your account team can teach a session on presentation skills. You may also find a willingness amongst employees to find new ways to get involved outside of their current role. Find influencers within your organization and tap them to get involved.
Involve your leadership team
Change comes from the top down. If leaders support a new organizational initiative, it’s likely others will too. Employees want to hear from leadership and leaders have a lot of experiences to share. But when will they have time to lead a training session? The answer is, they wouldn’t have to. At MediaMath, we ask leaders to participate in 30 minute discussions following a training session (e.g. effective feedback, motivating employees). This allows people to learn from our leaders’ breadth of knowledge, but with minimal preparation and time commitment.
Integrate and align it with hard skills
Adult learners learn best when they understand the purpose behind what they’re learning and how they can apply it. To ensure that soft skills stick, align it with hard skills that are critical to their role. If your team will be giving product pitches to clients, include a presentation skills training that improves public speaking; if your company is going through performance reviews, put together an effective feedback session to develop their ability to constructively assess peers and direct reports. When these topics are delivered as standalone sessions, it is often hard to fill seats and participants don’t see the connection to their day-to-day work. However, if you can make it relevant, you can increase attendance and retention.
Utilize existing communication channels to deliver content
You don’t need a facilitator-led session to deliver soft skills training. Find ways to reinforce it through existing work channels. Review a new soft skills topic each week in your team meeting; make it a recurring agenda item in your 1:1’s; encourage discussion via group chats & other social tools. These are easy wins that make learning accessible and digestable for employees.
Get yourself involved
People follow leaders, so lead by example! Teach a topic to your team that you’re passionate about. If they know these skills matter to you, they are more likely to make learning them a priority. It will also allow you to make better connections with your team and foster more open communication around these topics.
If every team makes learning a priority, your organization can become a true learning organization.