What makes an efficient team work smoothly together? How do teams build trust? How does a project stay on track? How do people communicate after organizational changes?
Soft skills play a key role in the answers to those questions and are the backbone of an efficient organization. In this article, we’ll discuss what soft skills are, why they’re important and how to develop them in your organization.
What Are Soft Skills?
Most people understand generally what soft skills are without knowing the exact definition. Put simply, soft skills are those that are applicable in any role, as opposed to technical skills, which are highly specific to a job function. Soft skills are also sometimes called interpersonal skills, people skills or transferable skills.
Examples of soft skills include:
- written and verbal communication
- time management
- critical thinking
- emotional intelligence
Each of these skills helps people succeed in their job, no matter the department they work in and regardless of the day-to-day technical requirements. Investing to improve these skills at your organization can make it a more efficient and enjoyable place to work. Some of these skills are so important that we included them in our list of 19 Employee Retention Strategies and How to Use Them.
The Importance of Soft Skills
Calling them “soft skills” undersells their importance.
Soft skills are the glue that holds together any efficient team. Communication helps break down silos and ensures project management goes smoothly. Time management skills help people balance concurrent tasks and deadlines. Emotional intelligence helps them be understanding coworkers. Teamwork helps people navigate change, no matter how significant or difficult.
Research shows there’s widespread employer desire for these soft skills. According to ZipRecruiter’s 2022 Grad Report, 93% of employers said that soft skills “play a critical role” in who they decide to hire. The company also did an analysis of its job board, which found that soft skills were listed as requirements in millions of job descriptions in a 12-month period. That means that employees should have the same vested interest in improving these skills.
There’s also evidence to suggest that soft skills are beneficial to a workplace’s bottom line, according to a 2017 study conducted by researchers at MIT Sloan, the University of Michigan and Boston College. The study found that textile workers in Bangalore, India, who were given soft skills training were more productive, had better attendance and showed better retention during training. The research also showed that the skills training had a 250% return on investment for the employer, plus additional spillover effects for colleagues who didn’t receive the training directly. The employer received that return on investment in just eight months after the training program ended.
The benefits are clear for both the individual and the organization. So how can you improve your organization’s soft skills?
How To Improve Your Organization’s Soft Skills
Help Employees Identify Areas To Improve
You can’t improve something if you don’t know what to improve.
Soft skills is a broad term on its own. While it’s commendable to want to improve soft skills in general, it’s more difficult—and less effective—to train people on all of them at once.
Instead, you can use surveys or assessments to help your teams identify areas they can improve, then work backward to help them come up with a plan to improve those skills. If you find a trend in areas where people need help, you can prioritize one soft skill over another for the entire team.
Your employees will thank you for the opportunity, too; having infinite choices can be overwhelming and can lead people to make no choice at all.
Invest in Soft Skills Training
Once you’ve identified the areas that your teams need to improve, it’s time to invest in soft skills training, or upskilling. As we mentioned earlier, the cost of this investment is worth it. But even if it’s valuable, you can still save money in the process.
How? Consider online or hybrid training options. Not only are they more convenient for your employees to complete, but they can also be significantly more affordable than bringing in a speaker or workshop facilitator. For larger organizations, online training can also help cut down on major costs like employee travel and accommodations.
As for uptake, in our 2022 white paper “Enabling Upskilling at Scale,” we found that one of the biggest barriers employees cited for not taking professional development courses was the financial burden. Instead, you can work with a platform like D2L Wave, which offers direct billing alongside an entire curated catalog of courses that will benefit your organization.
Use Social Learning
In the MIT Sloan study, even employees who didn’t receive explicit soft skills training improved by proximity. This is an example of social learning in action.
We learn many of our core soft skills from our experiences with others. Providing social learning tools like community forums and “ask the experts” sessions can empower employees to share knowledge to help their colleagues improve their own soft skills.
Another example of social learning is peer-to-peer learning. In this option, participants can take a specific training course together, enabling them to challenge one another and provide different perspectives, helping them get the most out of their learning.
See Peer-to-Peer Learning in Action
The customer success team at D2L put peer-to-peer learning into practice. They embarked on a team learning journey, taking an allyship and inclusion course as a group through PowerED™ by Athabasca University.
Discover the impact that the course had on them and the benefits of learning together.
Using Professional Development to Build a More Inclusive Workforce
What makes an efficient team work smoothly together? How do teams build trust? How does a project stay on track? The answer: Soft skills.
Chase Banger is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. An award-winning journalist and former communications specialist, he has a passion for helping people through education.
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