The value of soft skills training

A Brave New World

What is it about the term “Soft Skills Training” that sends Accounting Departments and C-Level Execs running for the exits? Perhaps it is an unwillingness to allocate training budgets to courses that many consider to be window dressing, or just nice-to-have learning. Perhaps it stems from an inability to properly calculate and ascribe ROI to such activities; after all, Product or Process training is so much more measurable, visible, and valuable, is it not? There is even a case to be made that the term “Soft Skills” lacks the punch one might expect from serious learning initiatives.

Regardless of what excuses you come up with for avoiding Soft Skills Training, they end up being just that: excuses.

The reality is that no matter how proficient a particular employee is within their job discipline, whether Sales, Development, or what have you, if they cannot interact effectively with their Teams, solve problems, and manage change, then a great deal of value and opportunity is lost.

It’s time to bravely step up and embrace the benefits of Soft Skills in the modern workplace.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft Skills relate to the sociological development of what is referred to as EQ – a person’s Emotional Quotient, commonly known as Emotional Intelligence. These skills allow an individual to build relationships with others by leveraging their unique personality traits, social aptitude, communication expertise, inclusiveness and respect for others.

Different types of interrelated Soft Skills can be addressed through training:

  • Self Awareness Skills – Truly the starting point, these assist in understanding your personality makeup and provide insight to why you do the things you do. It is a critical benchmarking piece, and enables personal growth, while also providing tools to assist you with specific interactions and dealings with others.
  • Communication Skills – Assist in the accurate and efficient reception and transmission of information; a very short list of these skills includes listening, writing, talking, and delivering presentations.
  • Influencing Skills – Allow an individual to negotiate successfully with others, find solutions, and manage change through collaboration and communication. These skills are essential in order to bring innovative ideas to market.
  • Social Skills – Arguably the most important of all the Soft Skills; the ability to “play nice in the sandbox”. Includes the development of such character traits as patience, defusing skills, and the ability to demonstrate friendliness, empathy, and understanding. Given the Team-oriented nature of businesses today, the value of such skills cannot be overlooked.

Still, it can be shocking exactly how underdeveloped these skills often are amongst team members, and thus a seriously focused Soft Skills Training program should be part of any organization’s commitment to their employees’ Professional Development. When implemented properly, Soft Skills will complement and bolster Product/Process Skills to create an employee that is not only proficient in the specific requirements of their position, but also with the demands of a changing workplace, varied audiences, and diverse teams.

The Value of Soft Skills

In organizations where Soft Skills are an essential part of the job being performed, for example in a call center environment, there is no question as to whether or not supportive training budgets are necessary; without such skills, these types of organizations could not function. In this example, the need is obvious, yet in organizations where the need is not so readily apparent, it is mistakenly assumed that Soft Skills are not as critical.

The reality is that Employee Soft Skills acumen ties directly to organizational effectiveness and agility. Soft Skills better equip employees to deal with the immense levels of change that are a reality in the 21st century corporate world.

Think about your day-to-day corporate activity… it isn’t just about building product or selling services… it involves massive amounts of human interaction, tact, negotiation, and sound decision-making in order to meet Strategic and Tactical Goals. Job Skills will only take you so far in pursuit of those goals; Soft Skills close the remaining critical gaps.

Employee Buy-in

We see it time and again: give an Employee a choice between Product Training and Soft Skills Training and they will pick Product every time. It makes sense, of course: the Employee is attempting to get the “biggest bang for the buck” around their training, and Product Training to enhance Job Skills is specific, measurable, and relevant. Soft Skills, not so much.

However, the relative importance of Soft Skills becomes apparent as the Employee approaches the milestones in their career. Employees must seriously ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do I want to get a promotion?
  • Do I want to be given more responsibility?
  • Do I want to build my individual reputation as a well-rounded contributor?
  • Do I wish to enhance my company’s image?

The answers will most likely be yes; consider, then, that lack of Soft Skills can hold you back in reaching these types of goals.

Organizations do not favour individuals with low Emotional Intelligence in leadership positions. That’s a fact (I have often been challenged on this viewpoint; in any company, there is always the story about “that one jerk who became shift manager”. I have to chuckle, since that is exactly the exception which proves the rule over and over again).

Since Soft Skills speak directly to a person’s attitudes and personality, it can often be a difficult conversation to identify opportunities for improvement. With that said, success for the Employee of the Modern Workplace relies on a paradigm shift in thinking: Job Skills and Soft Skills should not be viewed as two separate elements of disparate value; they must be considered one in the same and receive equal attention.

The Various Options for Soft Skills Training

The good news in our discussion is that EQ is something that can always be honed and developed. This is important since overall, people want to do the right thing and behave in an appropriate way. Often, it is simply a matter of the person in question not REALIZING that there are opportunities where they can improve their EQ.

Soft Skills training to address such issues come in many shapes and sizes. Numerous books on the subject from recognized experts are readily available online and in bookstores. These can provide a Best Practice and/or evaluative approach to recognizing opportunities and closing gaps.

Classroom learning is often an effective avenue of developing EQ, as it provides an instructor to whom questions can be posed, and a collaborative environment in which strategies can be tested. The best classroom environments will always have plenty of interactive workshops to help develop the talents and traits required to increase a person’s EQ.

Offsite courses can be very valuable for someone who may be embarrassed by the gaps they have identified; it allows them to improve their Soft Skills away from those that may have been directly impacted by those gaps.

The fact is, regardless of the avenue you choose to enhance the Soft Skills of your Employees, every company should commit to providing such options to everyone that needs them. The responsibility may be that of the Employee, but the Company’s responsibility is to facilitate that process as much as possible. These are OUR Employees, and we owe them the opportunity to grow.

The Intelex Approach

At Intelex, we believe in Soft Skills Training for all who need it; and guess what? We ALL need it! This is why we provide Soft Skills training directly as part of our Onboarding Program.

Outside of Onboarding, Soft Skills training is always available for our staff. We provide that training internally whenever possible, and will seek out external vendors when necessary. We are in the process of expanding our course offerings to include Time Management, Effective Communication, Negotiation, and Risk Management, with many more courses to follow. We believe strongly that robust Soft Skills are an essential ingredient for a happy contributor, and we strive to ensure that all Intelexians have access to the same tools for success!

Intelex provides an Annual Education Allowance administered by the Professional Development Office, which helps create a focused learning path for Employees. Yes! Intelexians can use education budgets for additional Soft Skills Training!

The majority of this training was conducted one-on-one with the PDO. We’d love to see that number increase, and so we challenge you to help us increase it! Come see the PDO today and we can assess your Soft Skills learning needs.

A Final Thought…

Innovation within an organization is fueled by elements far beyond mere product knowledge and tactical job expertise. Innovation thrives on Communication and other ingredients that can only be cultivated by a commitment to Soft Skills Training. It isn’t about “building” a better Employee; it’s about showing an Employee exactly what they are capable of, and then giving them the tools to flourish.

We need to make sure that our Product Knowledge is where it needs to be first and foremost, and we must make a commitment never to forget about Soft Skills.

Intelex is emerging as the Thought Leader within a number of areas related to the EHSQ Industry; our desire is that we will also be the Thought Leaders when it comes to Training, and that includes placing due importance on the EQ and Soft Skills Training we’ve talked about. This is one of the great many things that differentiate Intelex from other companies, and that is something we should all be proud of!

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