27 September 2023

Softly, softly: How to teach your employees soft skills

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Cyndy Trivella* says soft skills are not optional and teaching them to your employees is an investment in the future of your organisation.

When you hire employees, you’re investing in the future of your organisation.

Contributing to their development is one of the smartest investments you can make.

But too many employers overlook the basics when it comes to learning and development.

If you only focus on training to meet the specific tasks and requirements of a given job, you may not be developing your employees as much as you think you are.

Particularly when it comes to new employees switching to an unfamiliar role, or just-hired younger employees new to the workplace, they may lack foundational abilities you now take for granted.

Call them soft skills, call them life skills, or call them basic work skills, but these four are not only critical for success in your organisation, but throughout a career.

  1. Time management

Of all the skills employees should have, time management is one of the most vital.

This is really a group of skills, including knowing how to prioritise, create a list of must-dos, create a workable schedule, delegate tasks, and know how to create downtime.

All of these add up to employees being able to work efficiently and manage their time productively.

Teaching it

Given managing time varies greatly depending on teams and roles, team leaders and direct managers should be involved in teaching this particular skill.

Young hires fresh out of university may have mastered the ability to keep up with classwork but will need to learn how to transfer the skill into the context of work.

One effective approach: implement routines and incremental goals throughout tasks.

These make it easier to segment the day into manageable chunks.

Make sure to clearly communicate the priorities to employees at the start of each new task — and then help them figure out how to allocate their time more effectively.

  1. Interpersonal communication

Some employees will see more direct and immediate benefits from strong interpersonal skills, particularly if they’re in people-facing and communication-heavy roles.

But interpersonal communication is always essential to get the point across.

The skill includes verbal, nonverbal and listening skills, as in being able to recognise emotions and see someone else’s view.

Nonverbal communication involves being able to recognise the subtleties of body language, eye contact, and gestures, and look beyond traditional assumptions to understand what’s really going on.

Teaching it

Learning interpersonal skills is a personal process for most employees.

It’s best taught by mentors or team leaders with small, close-knit teams — provided that your team has the right dynamic to keep everyone comfortable.

You could start by teaching employees how to listen effectively and recognise the different types of communicators — such as controllers, analysers, supporters, and promoters.

Each enters a conversation differently and responds to a different listening and speaking style.

If you need more avenues to foster stronger interpersonal communication among your workers, consider heading online.

There are a number of classes for improving personal skills.

  1. Written communication

Writing is often just presented as one of the communication skills, but it’s likely better to set it apart and give it the focus it needs.

This is a skill that’s undoubtedly critical in the workplace, but there’s an enormous gap between people who can write and people who are good at it.

And no matter the promises of AI to assist with writing, technology can’t fill the gap in terms of bad writing.

Teaching it

For employees in marketing departments and HR, for instance, written communication is usually a key part of the role.

But the goal here is to enable all of your employees to build at least foundational writing skills — so emails are readable and a small brief or abstract is coherent.

Teaching writing should be done by those who are skilled in it and using the tools that are specific to it.

Make sure the organisation implements a clear and comprehensive style guide and provides it to all employees — sometimes poor writing is simply a matter of not knowing the rules.

Set up periodic training on the standards of communication, presenting not only what’s expected of employees in terms of writing, but clear samples to model correct usage and style.

  1. Organisation

In the workplace, we often sense who is organised and who isn’t by the state of their desk: some keep their workspace tidy, with everything in its place; others keep it in a state of perpetual disarray.

But organisational skills are far more than what you can see.

They usually go hand in hand with strong time management skills (reserving time to straighten the desk is a simple example).

But organisational skill is also a matter of knowing all the steps to a task, being able to envision them and know how to complete them.

Organisation is vital for any employee whose job includes overseeing, managing, project completion, or team leading.

Likely, that’s nearly everyone — in some form.

And it’s hard for employees to see — or convey — the big picture in terms of purpose and objectives if they don’t have the energy or ability to look away from the small stuff.

Teaching it

Direct supervisors are often the ideal choice for organisational training, with backup support from experienced team members.

They know the strengths and weaknesses of their team — and are typically the ones who need to connect the dots or undo a snafu.

The trend to remote working may call into question the need for a tidy desk for some — but it’s the mentality that needs to be emphasised here, and remote teams certainly need to learn how to be organised.

Starting by training how to create a routine and a schedule — and stick to it — creates a framework for other facets.

Employees need to know where they need to be, what they need to be doing, and when they need to get it done.

* Cyndy Trivella is a Managing Partner at TalentCulture.

This article first appeared at talentculture.com.

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