Are you recruiting the right people? Many companies are finding that they are recruiting the best technical graduates, who are not living up to expectations. Their performances are satisfactory, but not justifying their promise. These companies are discovering that to go from good to great they need to invest in soft skills training. 

The road to success lies in soft skills training

In 2013 Google learned that their recruitment strategy was wrong. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google’s founders, believed that brilliant technologists were the way to drive their company forward. 

As a company built on analyzing data, that is exactly what they did. They took every bit of recruitment data, all the information on successful employees, looked at why people left the company. The Washington Post discovered that Brin and Page, brilliant though they were, were wrong. 

The seven traits that indicated the most successful employees were all soft skills. This research emphasizes what psychologists have known for years – an investment in soft skills training is an investment in the success of your organization.

Soft Skills Development

Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

So, what are the key soft skills?

The name of the project, Project Oxygen, emphasized just how important these skills are to an organization

The technical skills – in this case STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – are the brain of any organization. But a brain cannot survive without oxygen; and it turns out the oxygen of your organization comes from the soft skills more associated with the humanities:

  • Communicating and listening
  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Coaching skills
  • Creativity
  • Strategic insight

This thought may be a little too radical to take without some good business reasons, so let’s take each one of those skills and see how they can make a difference to you and your organization and why soft skills training should be on your Board’s next agenda.

1. Communicating and listening

What is the most famous formula in physics? It’s probably the theory of relativity and E=MC2. It is unlikely many people without a physics degree understand how to apply it or use it, but the fact that Einstein had an instinct for expressing insanely complex concepts in a short engaging way means that most people have heard of him and his theories. 

Organizations must grow to remain successful – staying ahead of your competitors or making efficiencies without compromising quality is essential. But if your product or technology team is unable to communicate these ideas effectively, it is likely the team and its ideas will be dismissed. 

A highly functioning product development team must be able to share its ideas and strategies clearly, succinctly and in a non-technical way that does not over-simplify. 

A highly functioning product development team must be able to share its ideas and strategies clearly, succinctly and in a non-technical way that does not over-simplify. 

Similarly, both they and the rest of the business need to be able to listen – listen to what the business (and its clients) needs, and to allow other ideas and suggestions to improve products. This is closely linked to how to receive and act on feedback – it is rare for a future strategy proposal to be perfect from the outset, and all stakeholders need to learn to listen effectively.

2. Empathy

It is a cliched truism that “two heads are better than one.” Unfortunately, it is also true that we work better with people we like. This means that for a team to function at the highest level, its members must be empathetic. 

Personal and professional empathy will lead to a productive working atmosphere where members feel respected and valued. It also means that conflict is not destructive, but can be harnessed to promote creativity. The opposite of empathy is apathy – not caring, distanced from others. It is hard to contain apathy to one part of your life, so apathy towards colleagues becomes apathy to the company. Encouraging empathy between colleagues increases retention and loyalty – and happy employees are more productive. 

3. Critical Thinking

Another cliché – “time is money.” Too much time is spent on projects that have not been evaluated critically. “Critical” has the unfortunate connotation of a negative evaluation, but in this context, its definition is “involving an analysis of the merits and faults.”

Developing critical thinking in all employees will save your organization millions of dollars in wasted time, resources and efforts by ensuring that projects are refined at an early stage, rather than plowing on with expensive mistakes. 

Do you remember the company Consignia? Probably not, but for nearly a whole year, the British Royal Mail was known as Consignia. The whole rebranding process (including the return to Royal Mail a year later) cost around £2.5million according to the Daily Mail. It was not the only newspaper questioning whether an organization that had lost £1.1 billion the previous year could afford that kind of money on an exercise to change one of the best-known brands in Europe.

Soft Skills Development

Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

4. Problem Solving

Developing critical thinking in all employees will save your organization millions of dollars in wasted time, resources and efforts by ensuring that projects are refined at an early stage, rather than plowing on with expensive mistakes. 

We don’t like to use the word “problem” – we much prefer “challenge” or “issue”, or we disguise it with metaphor – “a bump in the road”, “a minor obstacle.” This fear of the word is fueled by fear of problems – and our fear comes from an inability to approach problems objectively and logically.

We either ignore the problem till it goes away or someone else fixes it – like the washing up in student accommodation – or we throw solutions at it without thinking them through, like trying random numbers when you’ve forgotten the PIN for your bank card.

Problem solving is a soft skill that can be learned. You can train out the fear and introduce an approach that uses your other soft skills. As soon as we use our skills of communication, listening, empathy, insight, critical thinking and others we can approach the task of finding a solution rationally, logically and calmly.

Further reading

How Can You Measure the ROI of Soft Skills?

Why Google Believes Soft Skills Are No Longer a Soft Option

5. Coaching Skills

The biggest topic of 2017, set to continue to dominate in 2018 is talent shortage, particularly in the IT sector. Talent shortages lead to a dramatic increase in recruitment costs.

How can you reduce spend on recruitment? By not recruiting at all! Coaching existing talent in the skills you need gives you flexibility, increases the dynamism of your organization and improves retention. But it only works if you have subject matter experts and leaders who have the necessary soft skills to be effective coaches. 

An effective coach does not suggest solutions or show how – they show why and build capability for self-development. In many ways, an internal coach is a soft skills guru: listening, communicating, critical thinking, and empathy are key to being a good coach.

However, knowing when not to speak is just as important – that moment when you step back and let your coachee find their own way.  

Identifying and developing coaching skills in key individuals must be a priority for every organization.

6. Creativity

Anyone with children will know that children are often most happy when they are painting, or playing with Lego or bricks. In short, when they are creating something new. Giving them space and tools to create can completely absorb attention and the results inspire pride and satisfaction.

Using soft skills techniques, we can harness the benefits of creativity in all areas of an organization.

As adults, it is easy to forget the joy of creativity, relying as we do on processes and procedures to organize our workdays. Bernard Sadow was making his way through an airport with two suitcases, when he noticed that airport workers where using trolleys to move heavy equipment.

His creativity gave rise to suitcases with wheels, an idea refined by Robert Plath who invented the idea of a suitcase with an extendable handle and two wheels on one side. 

This is an example of instinctive creativity – but it is possibly to develop creativity as well. Using soft skills techniques, we can harness the benefits of creativity in all areas of an organization: whether simplifying a complicated process; making a difficult report more accessible; automating a repetitive process – all can save an organization huge amounts of money, through simple solutions that require looking with a creative perspective.

7. Strategic Insight

If it were possible to see the future, it would be a soft skill! Strategic insight is the next best thing. The ability to translate past trends and the current situation into a prediction of the future is a soft skill that can be trained. And it’s not difficult to see the competitive advantage good strategic insight can bring.

97% of employers surveyed by Forbes believed that soft skills were an essential part of their business success

When you get it right, you are a step ahead of your competitions; you can be proactive in servicing your clients; you acquire resources more efficiently; and you spend on initiatives that are targeted at future growth, rather than spending on fire fighting problems in the present.

The critical skills needed to succeed

97% of employers surveyed by Forbes believed that soft skills were an essential part of their business success. Employees will still need technical skills – you don’t want to be the patient of a surgeon who’s a great communicator, but doesn’t know an arm from a liver – but it is more and more clear that successful organizations are investing in ways to stand out.

To take your organization to the next level, make sure you are investing wisely in soft skills training.