Of all the challenges faced by learning leaders, the challenge of choosing the right soft skills training can be especially difficult. To begin with, it involves different decisions and processes from, say, instructional design or training delivery. Many learning leaders come with a background in evaluating instructional needs, but they may not be equipped as buyer and evaluators of content. And, unlike other training initiatives, for which the source expertise already exists in house, they may be looking outside the organization at premium content providers.
It’s in this outside search where learning leaders can face options overload, induced by the recent proliferation of soft skills products and services on the market. Contributing to this overload is more and better research on certain soft skills – certainly more than was available when many of the tried-and-true vendors originally developed their content libraries. There has also been a growing interest in neuroscience and crossover applications of that research to leadership, creativity and personal effectiveness. Finally, the context for making this complex decision can have high stakes. Often, this content touches on the leadership philosophy of the organization or on other key aspects of the culture. When this is the case, options overload can become paralysis.
So, do you need to be an expert in leadership to choose the best leadership training? To choose a course on design thinking, do you need to be a master? Of course, our experience and background contribute to how we make decisions, but most would agree that a generalist can make informed buying decisions without being an expert in a specific soft skill. In such cases, the expertise required is in curation. Unfortunately, the process and approach that a learning leader uses to vet and select soft skills content is not as widely discussed or as widely accepted as other benchmarks in our discipline. Also, when we talk about curation in our industry, we are often focused on micro-curation of in-house and found resources.
With that in mind, here are four steps to consider when curating soft skills training.
1. Define the Objectives and Expectations
This step requires a pivot from conventional thinking about objectives. Of course, starting with some sort of learner needs analysis will be valuable, but, in this case, you must also look more broadly at the organizational goals and the goals of key stakeholders and sponsors. For example, knowing that learners need help in leading change is valuable, but there are several, very different options for accomplishing this objective. Defining learner objectives, while foundational, won’t provide enough of the criteria you need to make a good decision. That criteria should also include factors such as these:
- Organizational culture and aspirations.
- Management buy-in.
- Awareness and perceived value of market offerings.
- Cost parameters.
- Analysis of the design and delivery requirements.
Drafting a document that outlines the proposed selection criteria can be critical to explaining the reasons behind your recommendations later in the process.
2. Determine Methodology
Curation is more than making a choice. It’s the art of how you make that choice. After determining the criteria for evaluation, it’s helpful to think about the types of curation activities that will be most relevant in giving you the information you need. Here are a few types of curation that may be relevant to soft skills training:
- Searching is the full scope of how you will find information. It’s important to think outside of web searches, although they will inevitably be part of your search.
- Indexing brings together what’s available into an easily searchable list and may begin to introduce filters or ranking systems.
- Summary is a tool for pulling out core messages and concepts.
- Combination is the mashup of ideas from different sources.
- Sequencing creates a linear narrative of the information. Consider whether chronology is important from a content or a learner perspective.
- Selection is the iterative process of working from many to few.
It’s also worth noting that some of these activities may be enabling activities that you do during the curation but never present to your audience.
3. Create a Curation Plan
After defining your curation criteria and methodology, it’s helpful to revise or formalize your plan. In addition to the first two steps, a good plan likely outlines the following tasks:
- Conduct stakeholder interviews.
- Conduct end user focus groups.
- Gather available options.
- Apply criteria and rate options.
- Present recommendations.
If you are working with an executive sponsor, be sure to review the curation plan, including the evaluation criteria and curation methodology, prior to continuing.
4. Show Your Work
Helping stakeholders and learners understand the “why” behind your choices around soft skills training can help the organization accept ideas. People have a natural bias against new information that comes from the outside, and showing (in a concise, engaging manner) your work helps give it credibility. Although we designate certain types of content as soft, we want learners to appreciate the rigor of our curation and our selected training. Formalizing the “why” will also help to ensure the longevity of the program, as soft skills training can often be in or out of favor depending on factors such as changes in leadership.
Think deliberately about the choices that you make with respect to soft skills. By using a sound process of thought prior to action, the result will be better received by the organization and likely have a greater impact. Consider, for example, the decision of whether to go with premium content, stock content or custom content. Most organizations make that decision largely on the basis of cost: “What can we afford?” instead of, “What do we need?” The job of the soft skills curator is to comprehensively understand the organization’s and learners’ needs well enough to make meaningful recommendations. The curator then has the responsibility of helping everyone see the context and rationale for those recommendations.