[GUIDE] How to Develop Soft Skills in Your Employees

Post by Evan Meyer
June 24, 2022
[GUIDE] How to Develop Soft Skills in Your Employees

According to Peggy Klaus, a leadership and communication expert and author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills, “Soft skills get little respect, but will make or break your career.”

Developing soft skills in your employees is essential to the success of your business. Soft skills are the personal attributes and abilities individuals use to interact with others.

Several studies revealed soft skills development as the top priority for companies:

  • Stanford Research Center and Harvard University, and Carnegie foundation found that a whopping 85% of job success comes from excellent soft and people skills. 15% comes from technical skills.
  • 91% of organizations want more soft skills
  • A 2018 LinkedIn study identified developing soft skills as the #1 priority for companies.

Soft skills include communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking, among others. While hard skills are essential for technical jobs, soft skills are necessary for all positions. After all, every employee needs to be able to communicate effectively and work well with others. Fortunately, there are several ways to develop soft skills in your employees.

In this blog post, we will explore soft skills and how to develop them in your employees so you can deliver an excellent customer experience and foster a positive culture in your workplace.

Let’s dive in.


How to Develop Soft Skills in Your Employees: A Guide

According to the Soft Skills Association, research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Standford Research Center concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills.

And yet, in 2010, another study by the American Society for Training and Development found that out of the 171.5 billion dollars spent on employee learning and development, only 27.6% went to soft skills training.

Can you see the disconnect?

Soft skills are paramount to the success of your organization, and the benefits of improving soft skills are clear.

  • They make employees more productive at work because they listen better and ask detailed questions before completing tasks.
  • Customer service is improved because employees have a pleasant and helpful attitude towards customers, are adept at solving problems, and build trusting relationships. Customers who have a positive experience are likely to keep working with you.
  • Increased self-confidence improves performance.
  • Higher job satisfaction means employees are invested in their role, feel valued by the organization, and better handle conflict.
  • Lastly, developing emotional intelligence and empathy improves team dynamics. Teams working towards a common goal can have differing opinions and personalities but respect each other and pull together regardless of their differences.

There are also apparent risks to hiring people with a lack of soft skills and not developing the soft skills of current employees.

  • Poor communication leads to many problems, from coworkers feeling intimidated or bullied to customers having bad experiences and not wanting to do business with your organization.
  • Poor self-awareness and self-regulation in employees might lead to a poor team reputation and limit the chances of progression in their role.
  • Lack of emotional intelligence and empathy don’t lend themselves well to collaboration and teamwork, which might leave employees feeling isolated.

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What are Soft Skills, and Why are They Important in the workplace?

Soft skills are personal attributes and abilities that allow employees to work, communicate, and collaborate with others. They are sometimes referred to as character traits or interpersonal skills. Every interaction an employee has with another person is a chance to demonstrate competent soft skills.

  • Clear communication when listening, speaking, writing, or presenting ideas.
  • Interpersonal skills to relate to others, build effective relationships, and negotiate with peers and customers.
  • Teamwork demonstrates working well with others and being empathetic toward coworkers with fewer skills.
  • Leadership skills include time management, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and mentoring.
  • Critical thinking to develop innovative solutions and adapt to changing environments and situations.

There are many more, but you can see why soft skills are sought after from this list alone. Every soft skill plays a role in how your employees approach their work and interact with others.

Hard skills are requisite to get the job done and perform well, but soft skills complement hard skills and help employees stand out from the crowd.


How can you Identify Soft Skills in Your Team for Future Planning?

Soft skills are more challenging to measure than technical skills. For example, it’s easier to determine if someone can build a web page than to assess their ability to navigate office politics. But it’s not impossible. You’ll need to get creative.

There is a shortage of soft skills in the current market, and it’s reflected in the current boom in the soft skills training market. Organizations are more aware than ever that soft skills are crucial to success and that the development of soft skills should be a priority.

Organizations need a tangible way to measure, assess, and develop soft skills. To develop soft skills in your team, you need a framework. Before we dive into our guide, there are a few ways to look out for employees who demonstrate competent soft skills.

Look out for employees who handle high-pressure situations well and solve problems easily. Who’s calm under pressure? Which of your employees are empathetic to coworkers and work to find resolutions to conflict without adding to it? Do any of your employees respond well to criticism and show resilience through failure?

A great way to assess soft skills is with inbox simulations. Using objective, unbiased, day-in-the-life situations, you’ll assess soft skills in a safe environment and enable employees to see where they need to improve.


The Four ingredients for Meaningful Development of Soft Skills

Instructional tools must meet four criteria to promote the meaningful development of soft skills in the workplace.

Assess Knowing & Doing

It’s one thing to have knowledge. And conventional wisdom holds that available job opportunities stem from science, technology, engineering, and math in a technologically advanced world. But knowledge is a small part of the equation when it comes to being employable.

Google once studied their employees to inform their hiring process and found that among the eight most important qualities of top employees, seven were soft skills.

Without competent soft skills, candidates aren’t giving themselves the best opportunity to gain employment. There are tools for learning soft skills and emotional intelligence, but the disconnect is clear between gaining knowledge and applying it.

Instructional tools that ignore the knowing-doing gap do nothing to prepare employees for the workplace.

Organizations must help employees turn conceptual knowledge into action. Learning and development programs should go beyond assessing whether employees understand critical concepts and give employees opportunities to apply knowledge and practice soft skills in a safe environment.


Foster Accurate Self-Awareness

Employees must recognize the perception of their traits and attributes. Without self-awareness, they might make jokes that other employees find offensive. They might hold themselves to a higher standard and get angry when others don’t meet their expectations, creating a toxic atmosphere.

Studies have shown that it’s unclear whether people generally perceive their skills accurately or inaccurately and only have moderate insight into their abilities. Other studies show that teams lacking self-awareness are less successful. 

Less-aware individuals negatively impacted their teams by consistently making poor decisions, lacking team coordination, and engaging in conflict.

Soft skill training must include self-reflection and exercise to foster self-awareness. More importantly, tools should be linked to performance. If you can capture and deliver results that predict something of value, employees are more likely to take it seriously.

It’s crucial to communicate the value of learning and developing self-awareness. Why is the feedback relevant? How can the employee use the data to improve? This goes back to the knowing-doing assessment.


Deliver an Engaging and Relevant Experience

How engaged your team is impacts productivity, succession planning, and innovation. Those are pretty big fish, right?

To engage your employees in developing their soft skills, training tools should be relevant and immersive. If your soft skill training puts your employees in real-world situations and shows the value of what they’re learning, it’s much more likely to stick.

Soft skills are more challenging for some people to learn than others. Reading about something or watching a presentation won’t help. Instead, make soft skill learning tangible.

Which do you think is more engaging?

  • A 2-hour webinar on the importance of active listening in the workplace, or
  • A 15-minute simulation where every employee takes part in practicing active listening and gets actionable feedback to bring into their everyday lives?

The second choice is the clear winner. The first is lazy and ticks a box.

People learn by doing and practicing. The next time they’re in a similar situation, they can lean on the knowledge that they’ve done it before and know how to handle it.


Provide Actionable Feedback

Feedback that promotes meaningful development gives employees the ability to reflect on their performance, receive constructive criticism, and provides the next steps for development.

Soft skills are a personal subject. The wrong approach might lead to defensiveness and feel like a personal attack on character, so you must approach training and feedback correctly.

Effective feedback is sincere, clear, timely, and solution-focused. For example, “You failed the active listening exercise, do it again.”, you might say, “Do you have some time this morning to discuss how the active listening exercise went?”.

To go one step further, you might ask if you can share the exercise results with the team so that they can learn the key takeaways.


The Common Challenges to Overcome

With advancements in technology comes a lack of development of soft skills from a young age through to the current workforce. Short snippets of online interaction do little to support social skills.

Workplace bullying might be an issue in your organization. If an employee says something offensive to another employee’s face, they will see a clear reaction and hopefully realize they’ve done wrong. If they send the offensive comment in an email, they won’t know the response and think nothing of it.

That’s not to say technology is making things worse. Used correctly, technology can level up soft skills development with gamification and collaboration. Employees work hard to develop technical skills to be better at their job, so education around soft skills and proper engagement will highlight the need to develop soft skills for compounded success.

Finally, learning and development programs should have greater importance in the workplace. High-stress environments don’t make for a good learning ground. To give soft skills the respect they deserve, consider blocking time to work through assessments and simulations.


The Way Forward for Soft Skills and Your Employees

The risks of not developing soft skills in your employees are clear, from poor communication and lack of engagement at work to a divided atmosphere and fewer chances to develop future leaders.

Conversely, the benefits are clear. Improved and open communication, critical-thinking skills, and enhanced problem-solving lead to higher emotional intelligence and well-rounded employees.

Hands-on, experiential learning exercises allow employees to apply knowledge, make decisions and demonstrate their capabilities. The inclusion of real-life work projects is a must.

Soft skill training courses are our bread and butter. CapsimInbox gives you the ability to elevate your company’s training through authentic day-in-the-life experiences. You can build custom simulations to mirror situations in a particular role.

CapsimInbox provides direct feedback to assess soft skills gaps and build unique employee development.

Want to take CapsimInbox for a test drive? Try the self-guided demo today!

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