Soft skills training

How to train for soft skills the right way

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Hard to develop and difficult to measure. This is how, many HR and L&D professionals see soft skills. And they are mostly right. To train soft skills is a challenge, but we believe it’s one that’s worth undertaking. 

Why? Because soft skills are increasingly important in today’s work environment. Not only can they make or break an individual’s career, but they can also give your organisation a critical competitive advantage. Many companies already recognise this. LinkedIn even identified training for soft skills as the #1 priority of organisations in their workplace learning trends

If you want to know more about soft skills training, then you’re in the right place. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at what soft skills actually are, why they’re so important, and how you can identify any gaps. You’ll also learn the 4 steps to establishing effective soft skills training in your organisation.  

What are soft skills? 

First, let’s clarify the difference between hard and soft skills. Hard skills comprise technical, subject matter expertise, that’s needed to perform a job. For example, accounting, financial analysis, or programming skills. They are usually straightforward to measure because the expected outcome is clear. It’s relatively easy to check if an employee has the required hard skills. 

Soft skills, on the other hand, are the work ethic, communication and interpersonal skills, as well as the emotional intelligence of an employee. These might seem vague, but they are crucial for success. Think about it for a second. Don’t we all naturally prefer to work with someone who listens to us, is open to feedback, and a great team player?

Another notable difference is that soft skills are more transferable than most hard skills. For example, the ability to communicate clearly and with structure is a skill that employees can bring along as they move from role to role.  

If you’re curious which soft skills organisations need most, here are the current top 5 according to LinkedIn:

  • Creativity
  • Persuasion
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Time Management 

Why soft skills are so important 

Evidence is building that soft skills are evolving from “nice-to-have” to “need-to-have”. A fascinating study by Deloitte found that by 2030, two-thirds of all jobs in Australia will rely mostly on soft skills. You can be sure that this is representative of what’s happening in all developed and developing societies, and for good reason, too. 

Hard skills are meaningless without soft skills

Technical expertise clearly matters. However, employees need soft skills to utilise their expertise effectively. Think about a sales rep with unparalleled knowledge of your products and the market. She will have little success if she lacks the interpersonal skills to close deals and retain her customers. The same applies to an engineer who works in a team or a manager who leads a department. The list goes on. Hard and soft skills are intertwined. To thrive in a position, your employees need both. 

Soft skills are indicators of job success

Research by the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that “75% of long-term job success depends on people skills, while only 25% on technical knowledge”. There’s further scientific evidence that soft skills are excellent predictors for job performance and learning potential. 

We can infer that a common reason why employees don’t progress in their careers is a shortfall in soft skills. To develop staff for higher designations within the company, soft skill training is indispensable.  

Soft skills give your organisation a competitive advantage

How does your organisation set itself apart from the competition? You might have a superior product or technological edge at this moment. But other players in your industry typically catch up pretty quickly. However, something that’s very hard to copy is the ability of your workforce to manage your clients. In other words, the bundle of soft skills your workforce possesses. At the moment, technology cannot replicate soft skills and make up for the lack thereof. 

Identifying the soft skill gap 

So, how do you find out if your organisation has a gap in soft skills? Here are a few tell-tale signs:

  • Your organisation is great at securing new clients but can’t retain them for long. 
  • Staff turnover is high. 
  • Satisfaction among employees with the leadership is low. 
  • A lot of conflicts within and between teams are escalated to HR. 

Basically, whenever teams cannot effectively work together to capitalise on their combined knowledge, experience, and proficiency, a lack of soft skills is usually an underlying issue. 

Which brings us to the question: Are soft skills innate qualities that people are born with? Fortunately, they aren’t. Soft skills are trainable, and there are ways to establish effective training programmes. 

4 steps to effective soft skills training 

Is it easy to train for soft skills? Unfortunately not. One reason is that typical training models are geared towards hard skills. They focus on imparting new knowledge and rely on the self-drive of employees to make the change happen after the training. This approach usually fails with soft skills.

Soft skills are shaped by a variety of factors, such as the environment, company culture, and previous experiences. This means that employees need to make a conscious effort, practice on a regular basis, and commit to self-development. Hence, the training approach needs to be adapted accordingly. HR and line managers need to find ways to continuously reinforce the new skills to achieve and sustain behaviour change. 

Here are four steps that can help you to develop effective soft skills programmes:

1. Determine the strategic goals

Your soft skills training will be more effective when you can link it to a specific business goal. Think about what your organisation or a particular department wants to achieve and state it in clear, measurable terms. For example, the customer service team wants to increase the customer satisfaction rating by 20% in the coming year. 

2. Identify the desired behaviours and skills

The second step is to identify the specific behaviours that your employees need to exhibit for your organisation to reach its stated goals. In our example of the customer service team, such behaviours could be building rapport with clients and solving problems proactively. The skills that directly influence these behaviours are, for instance, active listening, empathy, and problem-solving skills. 

3. Design and implement the soft skills training

Once you’ve identified the needed skills, design a learning strategy that will allow your employees to acquire and retain these skills. Here are a few ideas that you can use: 

  • Make the training relevant to your employees’ specific situation and work environment. 
  • Offer a blended learning approach so that employees can choose the training methods that work best for them. 
  • Use gamification to create an engaging learning experience.
  • Beat the forgetting curve by utilising microlearning. When you deliver content in small chunks, it’s more likely to be retained.  
  • Involve senior leaders and management so that the desired behaviours are modelled throughout the organisation. 
  • Integrate the training into the daily workflow, so it becomes part of the employees’ routine. This can be achieved with a mobile app.  
  • Provide regular refresher trainings to create a culture of continuous learning and improvement in your organisation.
  • Implement a Behaviour Change System that bridges the gap between training and business impact. 

4. Measure the impact and optimise your soft skills training

We find that many organisations struggle to measure whether their training programmes actually lead to the desired behaviour change. That, in turn, makes it challenging to proof the return-on-investment of the training and justify further investments into the programme. We’ve made it our mission to provide a platform to increase post-training application and validate behaviour change with data. Real-time insights can help L&D professionals to further improve training strategy and programme effectiveness. 

Where to go from here 

If you’re willing to give your soft skills training a boost, we’d be happy to support you. Here’s what you can do right now:

Click here to learn more about our Behaviour Change System and how it can help you to reinforce and sustain your soft skills training. 

Click here to get in touch with us, so we can help you to find the best solution for your training needs. 


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Posted in Behaviour Change, Best practices.

Julia Saxena

Julia Saxena is a senior writer at People Potential. Since working in HR of one of the world's largest banks, she has been fascinated by the human factor in the success of organisations. Julia loves to discuss topics which are on top of HR professionals minds with the aim to improve some workplaces along the way.