The Hard Work of Soft Skills

Joetta L. Wagner | | Internal Communications

developing soft skills at workIt might be time to stop calling them “soft skills,” because interacting and communicating with others is probably the most important skillset employees need on the first day of new-hire onboarding.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus is known as the author of an observation that perennially describes the human condition. “Change is the only constant in life.” This exemplifies a basic tenet of human existence: change happens. The “change” in business today is the importance of soft skills. It’s soft, not hard skills that rank highest in the contemporary business environment. And soft skills aren’t teachable in the same way hard skills are. So what’s the difference?

Definitions for Use in New-Hire Onboarding

“Soft skills” is really just a term for what used to be called “people skills.” Hard skills, on the other hand, are easily quantifiable and teachable. Lei Han, a Warton MBA with over 20 years’ experience in the business world and author of over 200 articles about the business of career improvement, notes that there are three principal differences between hard and soft skills.

• Mastery of hard skills requires a high IQ: Intelligence Quotient, which is left-brained in origin. Mastery of soft skills requires a high EQ: Emotional Quotient, which is right-brained in origin.

• With hard skills, the rules stay the same, regardless of industry, company or cohorts. One plus one always equals two. Soft skills, on the other hand, are flexible. Communication with senior management differs from communications with a client. Indeed, communication itself is a soft skill.

• Hard skills are taught, either in an educational setting or through self-generated research. Soft skills aren’t, for the most part, taught. They are developed in the same manner that personalities develop.

A brilliant scientist (high IQ) can lack communication skills, which hampers their ability to explain a dazzling new theorem. Someone with a high EQ will find that courses and books provide the “how,” while their brilliantly developed skills in leadership, organization and problem solving are needed in every field.

new-hire onboardingCreate a Balance…

In an article for Zety, a fast-growing career advice website, Tom Gerencer observes that both hard and soft skills are prized in the business world. They are also prized in the social milieu. A person who works as manager at a TV production company masters the hard skills of budget creation, equipment rentals and travel arrangements. But it’s their soft skills as a resourceful, adaptable and creative thinker, coupled with the hard skills, that vault this person to a six-figure income. In fact, as Michael Hansen notes in his article "How to Develop and Train for Soft Skills in the Workplace", “…75% of long-term job success comes down to soft skills mastery… researchers found that workers with soft skills training are 12% more productive than those without them, which translates into a 256% ROI.”

Reap the Rewards

In general, post-high-school-education programs don’t provide training in soft skills. They're all about hard-skill optimization. That means companies become the schools for soft-skill development for both current employees and to new hires during the onboarding process. As noted in an article by Dr. Benjamin Garner in CEOWORLD Magazine, every employee is an investment for an organization. And as an investment, an ROI can be calculated. The human-capital metric is a vital assessment of employees. And if nothing else, training new employees in soft skills is vital.

Dan Schawbel, a Forbes contributor, interviewed another contributor, keynote speaker and executive coach Cy Wakeman, about employees and their ROI. She observes the factor most often used in business to evaluate employees is job performance. She also notes that this is an inadequate tool to truly evaluate an employee’s worth to a company. Her suggestion? An Employee-Value metric. Employee Value = Current Performance (How am I doing today?) + Future Potential (Am I ready for what’s next?) – (3x) Emotional Expensiveness (Am I worth it?). Emotional expensiveness (high drama, low productivity) destroys an employee’s value.

What to Do

What’s next? First, let's define soft skills. Here are the top ten:

• Listening • Communication
• Responsibility • Leadership
• Teamwork • Flexibility
• Conflict Management • Organization
• Critical Thinking • Creativity
 

HR manager and new employeeAs human resources departments spearhead new-hire onboarding and ongoing employee training, education and evaluation, they are the best people to set up and facilitate soft-skill programs. Michael Hansen notes that there are several options to consider:

• Hire smarter. Recruiting and new-hire onboarding offer a fertile field of opportunity. Look for individuals interested in learning more than just hard, practical skills.

• Begin with a training assessment. By asking them what their goals are and where they encounter issues. They then invest in their own futures.

• Invest in the best learning management system (LMS) for your company. An LMS provides administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, and delivery of educational courses, training programs or learning and development programs.

• Use the best learning platforms. eLearning comes in many shapes and styles.

• Give employees places and projects that offer opportunities to practice and refine their new soft skills.

Soft and hard skills are profoundly important in business. Lead a company to success by balancing the two.

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