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Soft Skills Training in the Workplace: It’s Time to Soften Up

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Soft Skills Training

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When we think about training in the workplace, soft skills can often be overlooked because they’re not as tangible as ‘hard skills’ like coding or advanced Excel skills. But developing soft skill training for employees is just as important as technical skills.

One study by MIT Sloan found that a controlled, 12-month soft skills training trial in five different factories yielded a 250% ROI in just eight months. Their training in soft skills like problem solving and decision making increased productivity, made complex tasks more efficient, and improved employee attendance. 

Stanford Research Institute International determined that 75% of the long-term success in a given job role is based on a mastery of soft skills, and only 25% of that job success comes from technical skills. As you can see, the results from soft skills training are impressive. So let’s take a closer look at how it all works.

What Are Soft Skills? 

Soft skills tend to be more personality-focused, as opposed to being based on qualifications, technical skills, or vocational experience. That includes things like people skills, social skills, interpersonal skills, and transferable skills. 

In contrast, hard skills are technical skills that are often job specific. They come from certification programs, employee training, and work experience and can be taught, measured, and tested through exams and practical assignments or quizzes. 

Hard skills tend to relate to the core business of an organization, such as writing skills, computer networking skills, machine operation, business analysis, design, and construction. Soft skills deal more with interpersonal relationships and involve things like conflict resolution, communication, listening, and problem-solving.

In short, these are some key differences between hard skills and soft skills:

Differences between hard skills and soft skills
Soft SkillsHard Skills
Experience basedRule based
People relatedTechnological/scientific
BehavioralRelates to tools and techniques
Non-domain specificSpecialized
GeneralProcedural and methodical

As mentioned, soft skill development is often underestimated and not given due importance. Plus, while hard skills can be learned and mastered over time and with repetition, soft skills can be harder to develop and more difficult to accurately evaluate and measure. These are the reasons for a huge shortage of soft skills in 2020. LinkedIn carried out a study in 2018 covering 100 metropolitan cities in the United States and discovered a communication skills shortage in 1.4 million people. 

But does addressing this gap really make sense? Why do soft skills in the workplace matter?

How Soft Skills Training Can Benefit Any Business

Competencies like communication, conflict resolution, and problem solving underpin almost every facet of business operations. Across your organization, in every business unit and employee role, soft skills are crucial for gaining new clients, improving customer service metrics, and building a stronger team dynamic. 

There are many other organizational benefits to be gained from soft skills programs, and here are our top three:

1. Improve customer service

This could be considered the most obvious benefit of improving soft skills in the workplace. Your employees will be able to actively listen more effectively to establish your customers’ needs, identify problems, and help them resolve it. They are also likely to have more compassion and empathy after enhancement of soft skills, which can have a large positive impact on customer service. 

2. Increase sales

Improving soft skills can benefit your sales team during the sales negotiation process. Employees can use their competencies to engage with the client on a more personal level, without breaching the all-important professional boundaries, and your customers will definitely appreciate this. When employees take additional time to discuss the pain points that your clients experience and match them with the right solution, the sale will result by itself.

3. Improve employee retention

Your organization will retain more talent because you’ve invested in their professional growth, and this pays off. You will reduce the need to hire and train replacement staff, thus reducing organizational costs. 

Additionally, soft skills improve knowledge retention and equip employees to take ownership of their personal development. 

Top Soft Skills That Will Improve Your Employees’ Performance

That list showed you some significant benefits of soft skills training, but what competencies should you concentrate on with your employees to actually achieve all of those gains?

LinkedIn recently published a list of the most in-demand soft skills, and leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management came out as the ones employers were actively seeking. Now let’s take a closer look at the specific skills you should consider training your employees in.

1. Leadership

What is it?Key competencies and traits that make up this skill:Why train your employees in this skill?
Leadership is a soft skill that enables people to guide others while fulfilling the goals and mission of the organization. 
  • Project management
  • Empathy
  • Selflessness
  • Agility
  • Listening
  • Humility
  • Cultural intelligence
  • Authenticity
  • Versatility
  • Generosity
  • Trust
By upskilling leadership, employees will be better able to delegate, provide, and accept honest and actionable feedback, take responsibility for the deliverables they own, and motivate themselves and others to reach business targets and KPIs.

2. Communication

What is it?Key competencies and traits that make up this skill:Why train your employees in this skill?
Communication skills can be oral or written and facilitate effective expression in the workplace. 
  • Clarity
  • Confidence
  • Respect
  • Empathy
  • Listening
  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Written communication
  • Constructive feedback
  • Friendliness

Your employees will be able to communicate more effectively both with one another and with your customers, which is a win-win situation. By developing their communication skills, you’ll be empowering them to express themselves more clearly, listen more actively and attentively, and achieve better outcomes from difficult conversations.

3. Teamwork

What is it?Key competencies and traits that make up this skill:Why train your employees in this skill?
Teamwork skills allow employees to operate well in a group setting. 
  • Collaboration
  • Cooperation
  • Coordination
  • Delegation
  • Listening
  • Active listening
  • Idea exchange
  • Mediation
  • Negotiation
It promotes healthy employee relationships and empowers your colleagues to collaborate and work as a team more effectively to collectively meet your company’s goals, targets, and KPIs.

4. Time management

What is it?Key competencies and traits that make up this skill:Why train your employees in this skill?
Time management skills demonstrate the ability to use the work time wisely – plan time as required and allocate it reasonably for various tasks.
  • Project management
  • Prioritizing
  • Self-starter
  • Planning
  • Decision making
  • Focus
  • Delegation
  • Stress management
  • Coping
  • Organization
Improving time management empowers your employees to achieve their working goals more efficiently. This process, in turn, leads to improved efficiency and heightened productivity. 

5. Problem solving

What is it?Key competencies and traits that make up this skill:Why train your employees in this skill?
Problem-solving abilities blend the use of analytical and creative thinking to find solutions.
  • Lateral thinking
  • Logical reasoning
  • Initiative
  • Persistence
  • Observation
  • Persuasion
  • Negotiation
  • Brainstorming
  • Decision making
Your employees will be more proactive when it comes to recognizing problems and potential roadblocks to projects, tasks, and goals. They’ll also be better equipped to identify and implement solutions or come up with alternative fixes.

6. Critical thinking

What is it?Key competencies and traits that make up this skill:Why train your employees in this skill?
This is the ability to analyze information objectively, assess different perspectives, and reach logical conclusions without being influenced by emotion or personal biases.
  • Problem solving
  • Logical reasoning
  • Brainstorming
  • Creative thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Observation
  • Applying data to real-world situations
It fosters your employees’ ability to “think outside the box.” By using these skills, they will be able to weigh the pros on cons of different options and make informed decisions. This makes it far more likely that they will achieve the desired results for your business.

The problem is that many people still think of these types of skills as innate qualities rather than something that can be learned – they consider that a person is either born with them or not. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth, as all of the most in-demand soft skills can be trained and developed.

Best Ways to Train Your Employees on Soft Skills

There are a number of options for delivering soft skills training to your workforce. You can dedicate entire courses solely to soft skills, or you can add relevant soft skill sections to your existing course content. In terms of delivery methods, consider using some of the options outlined below:

1. Coaching/mentoring

If you identify an employee who has a development need for a specific soft skill like leadership, you can consider bringing in a mentor or coach and tailor a learning approach that’s specific and targeted. The coaching process in the workplace typically implies collaboration with the employee to identify, target, and plan for better performance.

This is how it works: A coach defines the employee’s goals, existing skill sets, strengths, and, of course, weaknesses. For example: the employee finds out that he/she is not good enough at communicating with the staff supervised, so a coach creates a development strategy and provides him/her with a clear pathway to improve their communication skills. When an employee is on their way to implement this strategy, a trainer supports them and provides them with actionable feedback. 

Coaching/mentoring is especially effective in imparting soft skills, such as communication and leadership.

2. Live interactive workshops

If you want to train an entire group of employees in a specific soft skill, you can organize live workshops. The best workshops have a concrete, action-oriented purpose and aim to find answers to current problems in the field. 

Let’s say you want to teach your customer service staff how to resolve conflicts with clients. You can work out role-play scenarios and play them out right in the workshop. Let the supervisor or learning and development representative be a disgruntled customer and your employees will have to try to settle the conflict. Based on their responses, the trainer will be able to bridge skill gaps and point them in the right direction.

3. Peer (social) learning

Another effective yet simple way of developing soft skills is to learn with other people. Research has shown there is a significant link between having fun in the workplace and informal learning. You can take advantage of this by creating streams of work or small-scale projects that require collaboration between colleagues at work. Or you can undertake social learning online via the use of social apps and other tools. 

For example, launch a peer forum where employees will discuss soft skills in the workplace and how to achieve their full potential. They will have a place to ask questions and share stories to get peer-based feedback. For instance, an employee encountered a particularly difficult customer who got on his/her nerves. He/she can share his/her experience on the forum, discuss it with colleagues, and get useful advice for the future. 

4. Online learning

In the current global climate, training your staff online makes sense. They can improve their soft skills while training from home or other places on any device. 

You could buy some readymade soft skills courses from online learning platforms such as LinkedIn, Learning or Udemy. However, how will your employees consolidate acquired skills in practice? And how will you check that your colleagues really got something useful from the training? 

A great way to address both issues and do online soft skills training that adds real value is dialogue simulation. It’s perfect for teaching business communication skills and other similar competencies. 

A dialogue simulation is an online interaction that simulates an actual conversation with a person, such as a customer, another staff member, or a stakeholder. This is similar to role-play scenarios that we’ve discussed when talking about live workshops, but sims are automated and don’t require the involvement of other people. 

The main thing is that they can help employees master communication skills with no risk to the business until they are ready to test them in the real world. Besides, unlike live workshops, there’s no need to gather all the trainees in one place and spend enormous amounts of time on individual practice. Dialogue simulations allow tens and even hundreds of professionals to practice when and where they wish.  

This is what a dialogue simulation created with the iSpring Suite authoring toolkit looks like:

A key feature of a good dialogue simulation is the use of branching scenarios in which each decision the employee makes has consequences. This ensures that everything works like it would in an actual communication between two people.

Authoring tools like iSpring Suite make creating dialogue simulations very simple and quick and allow branching scenarios to be added without complex coding.

5. AR/VR

Augmented and virtual reality can also be very effective ways to develop soft skills in employees. These tools allow organizations to effectively replicate real-life scenarios that employees might face and train them on the best way to react in those situations. 

For instance, you can replicate scenarios in a virtual world in which an employee has to reply with empathy to a co-worker experiencing difficulty in their personal lives. Or you can recreate a situation when a manager needs to give critical feedback to their staff.

A great example of VR training for soft skills is the ‘CoPilot’ program developed by Talespin.

Talespin’s CoPilot platform allows you to use virtual humans with social and emotional intelligence that are powered by artificial intelligence to teach interpersonal skills.

How to Put Soft Skills Training Online

By now you may be wondering what the quickest and easiest way to get a soft skills training course online is, so let’s run through a quick step-by-step process.

Step 1: Perform necessary prework

This step will depend on what methodology and software you are using, but in general, at this stage, you should identify your learning objectives and define what should be covered in the course. Plus, decide how you will make the vision a reality – what authoring tool you will use.

Step 2: Create course 

This part of the process will depend on what type of training courses you want to create and the software tool you decide to choose. Rapid eLearning authoring tools like iSpring Suite are ideal for creating the slide-based courses, quizzes, video tutorials, and dialogue simulations we’ve covered above. 

To create a conversation simulation quickly and easily with iSpring, simply follow the steps described in this article.

Step 3: Deploy course

When you’ve finished creating your soft skills course, the next decision to make is how to publish and share it. Most organizations prefer to deliver their training via an LMS like iSpring Learn that allows for the easy tracking of results and completions, and the flexibility of using any eLearning format you want. However, you can also share your course on your corporate website/intranet or send it to your employees by email.

Final Thoughts

That concludes this in-depth look at soft skills training. Does your organization offer soft skill programs to your employees? If so, what methods do you use to deliver the training, and how effective has it been? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

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