Many employers underestimate the importance of soft skills until they learn about a bad customer service experience, lose sales or try to manage a disgruntled employee. Typically, companies with high sales are dedicated to hitting a home run with a first impression and continuous relationship management. The impact of an unhappy customer on the business can be detrimental, depending on the customer’s social network. So, how do L&D professionals gain buy-in from leaders and employees to play hard ball with soft skills?

According to a recent LinkedIn study, there’s a high demand for these 10 soft skills: communication, organization, teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social skills, creativity, interpersonal communication, adaptability and having a “friendly personality.” We might look at this list and think that these topics should be ingrained in employees by the time they arrive on the first day of their first job. However, we know that great, innovative leaders are often not found along our own personal career track. Just as good habits are learned, bad ones are often cultivated. Continuously building training that encompasses a few soft skills is a wise decision.

Do We Need to Give Direct Soft Skill Training?

Absolutely not. We know that leaders and employees often balk at the idea of taking a training on having a “friendly personality” and feel that teamwork is a personality trait instead of a skill to develop. Luckily, you can build soft skill training into most training programs, since the soft skill itself is what enables employees to do a better job in their technical duties. For instance, in a sales training geared toward increasing sales through B2B relationships, including communication, organizational and social skills may be beneficial to relationship management. Sometimes, the packaging of an idea is just as important as the idea itself.

Do We Need Formal Soft Skill Training?

Soft skill training can happen outside of the usual online, webinar or instructor-led platforms. Many companies use on-the-job training (OJT) as a quick, efficient approach to soft skill training. For instance, managers at a credit card company provided OJT training on voice tonality for their customer service representatives by walking down the team line while reps were assisting customers on the phone. The managers observed their voice, tone and body language and, after the call, provided positive reinforcement and ideas for improvement on the spot. (Examples include, “Smile when speaking to relay happiness over the phone” or, “Sit up straight in the chair to sound more engaged.”) These efforts do not go unnoticed by the budding workforce. In a 2015 labor analytics research study of millions of job announcements, one out of three skills employers requested was a soft skill.

All in all, the time to make a thorough effort on soft skills development for your employees and leaders is now. The learning and development industry, coupled with hiring statistics, demonstrate the importance of preparing employees to play hard ball with soft skills.

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