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Skills Facts: The Hard Truths

An employee’s ability to do the technical components of their work can only take them so far. To become a top employee or a respected leader, you’ll need a set of skills that are difficult to quantify yet crucial to your success.

Collaboration, critical thinking, perseverance, and communication are examples of “soft skills,” which are behaviors, personality traits, and work habits that help people succeed at work.

Consider the following scenario: A skilled graphic designer may impress people with her creations, but if she consistently misses deadlines or fails to listen to feedback, her career may stall, resulting in costly project delays or disgruntled clients.

A lack of soft skills such as reliability, time management, and critical thinking can derail an individual with strong technical abilities in a variety of ways. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends study, 89 percent of recruiters say it’s usually due to a lack of soft skills when a hire doesn’t work out.

Many employers are putting a premium on soft skills during the hiring process, maybe realizing this. Employers cited soft skills such as dependability, teamwork/collaboration, adaptability, and problem-solving when asked to name the top abilities they desire in employees, according to Monster’s The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook.

According to Alexandra Levit, a workforce futurist and author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future, while most people are hired for their technical competence, their soft skills provide them “career durability” (Kogan Page, 2018). She defines it as the ability to gain the skills, information, and mindset required to be an effective and engaged team member.

“To be successful in ten years, someone must be resilient and able to reinvent themselves in diverse learning situations,” she continues.

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Soft Skills Sorting

Skills facts

Soft skills have the advantage of being highly transferrable. Any work can benefit from creativity, responsibility, and strong communication skills. However, how can HR professionals tell which soft skills need to be strengthened or which are most important in their workplaces?

According to Abby White, SHRM-CP, CEO of Gró HR Consulting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, doing a skills or training needs assessment can be a wonderful method to find out, and the HR team may already have much of the information it requires.

Request that managers analyze their team members’ previous performance reports for soft-skill deficiencies as well as proficiencies such as how employees reply to the e-mail or their attitudes and participation in team meetings.

“Keep an eye out for those types of habits that can be improved,” White advises.

Di-Ann Sanchez, SHRM-SCP, founder of DAS HR Consulting LLC in Hurst, Texas, argues that self-assessments and 360-degree feedback reports can be utilized together to prioritize the soft skills that employees need to improve. She uses her own startling 360-degree feedback results as an example of how employees can learn from how others view them.

“Communication was usually the lowest score in my 360, which surprised me because I consider myself to be a wonderful communicator,” Sanchez adds.

Sanchez sought the help of a communication coach after finding that some coworkers found her manner scary. Sanchez claims that working with a communication coach helped her become more aware of her audience. When evaluating soft skills, she emphasizes the importance of corporations taking bias, cultural, and gender inequalities into account.

“An aggressive communication style, for example, may be considered more appropriate in guys,” she explains. “You must be sensitive to various gender viewpoints while yet not holding people to dramatically different standards.”

Look no farther than your most successful employees to learn which soft talents are most in-demand in your company. Examine whether they have any characteristics that enable them to succeed in your company.

To secure buy-in, Sanchez suggests that HR professionals ask bosses what their top four or five most-wanted employee soft skills are. Reread some of your company’s material if you’re unsure.

“Review your company’s value statements and consider your company’s culture,” Sanchez advises. “When it comes to soft skills, those are your company’s top concerns.”

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Is It Possible to Teach Them?

Skills facts

It is possible to teach someone a technical skill, such as how to drive with a stick shift. The technique isn’t pretty—imagine a lot of jerky braking and clutching—but it’s very straightforward.

Teaching someone to be more patient, a better team player, or more imaginative, on the other hand, may not follow a predetermined formula, but it is still possible. While it’s true that some people are born with personality qualities that make it easier for them to demonstrate certain soft skills, these abilities can also be developed over time.

“Companies stand to gain a lot by treating soft talents the same way they treat technical abilities,” says Liz Cannata, vice president of human resources at Chicago-based talent acquisition firm CareerBuilder.

Because of a lack of experience or a past scenario, an employee may be lacking in a specific soft skill. White gives the example of one of her employees who couldn’t seem to solve difficulties on her own. It wasn’t, however, because the employee lacked decision-making skills.

It was because she had previously worked for a micromanaging boss who never let her propose alternatives. When a problem emerged, White urged the employee to come up with a solution or two before bringing it to her attention.

In situations like this, it’s critical for businesses to create an environment in which it’s OK for people to make errors and be vulnerable. Organizational culture, according to Kristina Johnson, chief people officer of San Francisco-based identity and asset management company Okta Inc., can be at the root of the problem if such an environment does not exist.

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“Imagine a company where executives respond with empathy and understanding to inquiries, concerns, and missteps,” Johnson adds. “Think about an aggressive, blame-centered workplace, where people are frightened to make errors and too embarrassed to ask questions. Employees at one of those organizations will, as you might expect, stay far longer than those at the other.”

People with emotionally intelligent supervisors—those who are self-aware and empathetic—were happier, more creative, and innovative, according to a new Yale University study.

On the other hand, 70% of employees whose bosses were found to have low emotional intelligence expressed negative attitudes toward their jobs.

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