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Why it’s time for HR to prioritize soft skills training

Jan Meyer
Jan Meyer is SVP and Head of Learning Systems for SAP. In this role, Jan is responsible for leading the product, engineering, and editorial functions for SAP’s learning products. With an extensive professional learning background, Jan’s north star is to make learning engaging and accessible for all.

It’s no secret that today’s businesses are facing a variety of internal challenges. Leaders everywhere are attempting to inspire workforces as they face a continuing global pandemic, technological transformation and increased competition. And as reports of the Great Resignation continue to sweep the nation, it has become clear that many are failing to realize the true impact of these rapid changes: misalignment between leaders and employees, as well as deteriorating company culture.

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How can organizations adapt to better align with their employees’ needs and help combat turnover? The answer is multi-faceted, but it begins with adjusting our organizational approach to professional soft skill learning, which is commonly overlooked in today’s rush to digitalization. Soft skills, also known as common or core skills, are the highly transferrable, non-technical skills that relate to how one works, such as leadership, problem-solving and communication, to name a few. In taking a step back to consider the top organizational values and employee needs, today’s leaders can establish a sustainable, long-term strategy for employee skill development that ensures increased retention and employee satisfaction.

Recognize evolving employee needs and the learning they demand

Many organizations focus on surface-level retention tools such as salary adjustments and referral bonuses; however, the work to maintain a quality employee goes deeper than that and directly relates to how employers are contributing to an employee’s career growth.

Related: Is VR the solution to soft skill training?

Employees are looking to their employers to develop core business skills that can help them swiftly climb the ladder, which includes both technical, industry-specific skills as well as crucial soft skills. By emphasizing soft skill training and providing the necessary learning and development opportunities, companies are driving greater retention while ensuring improved alignment and success. A study conducted by Boston College, Harvard University and the University of Michigan shows that soft skills training in areas such as communication and problem-solving boosts employee productivity and retention by 12% and delivers a 250% return on investment based on these increases. Soft skills are essential in building a dynamic workforce and are highly transferable, ultimately supporting an individual’s improvement across projects, teams and responsibilities. By investing in employees’ skill development, leaders show they not only support their workers’ day-to-day challenges, but also have a stake in their career advancement.

Build a specific and thoughtful skill development strategy.

Once we recognize the importance of incorporating soft skill training into an organization’s overall learning program, we must understand how to properly do so. In working to evolve a workforce’s soft skills, leaders are ultimately seeking to achieve a behavioral change among employees. This requires an evaluation of the abilities, mindset and future conduct that an organization is looking to inspire in its workers. Organizations can begin by asking, “What are the critical behaviors we seek in our employees?”

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This is where we see an interesting intersection of soft skill training and company culture. No two companies will have an identical soft skill development program because the soft skills a company chooses to prioritize and vocalize internally reflect the business’ values and objectives, ultimately shaping and reinforcing company culture. If built well, soft skill training can set a strong foundation and precedent—where employees feel inspired to grow and understand how this growth supports the company’s mission.

See also: Looking to slow the Great Resignation? It’s time for a skills revolution

Once companies have answered this question and established the soft skills that best suit their long-term goals, they can build out their training programs with the knowledge that they are providing employees with a trajectory to achieve success and career advancement in the organization. These courses will not only build the employee’s personal skills but will also serve as a self-feeding cycle that brings employees into stronger alignment with their work, teams and the organization as a whole.

Provide learning opportunities that stick

It is important to acknowledge that the format in which learning is presented is just as important as the content itself. In today’s fast-paced corporate world, with many burnt-out, overworked employees, it’s essential that businesses meet their workforce where they’re at. This requires considering the individual needs of employees, from both the time they have available—such as offering live sessions and asynchronous learning—to their learning style and preferences.

Similarly, the way in which we communicate with employees after training opportunities impacts their effectiveness. Consider taking a “follow-up and practice” format that encourages opportunities where employees can continue to utilize their newly learned skills and values. Whether it’s through an internal team meeting or a new project, by providing this element of repetition, organizations reinforce these skill sets and provide employees with the ability to practice them in their daily roles. By emphasizing the continual use and beneficial effects of soft-skill development, organizations can simultaneously upskill their workforce while connecting employees to the larger picture and boosting their interest in their work.

Amid today’s worsening talent shortage, any activities that boost employee experience and career development are worth prioritizing—with soft-skill development being an essential ingredient in the overall learning mix. With a strategically built soft-skill development plan that accounts for an organization’s key values and the needs of its workers, organizations set a strong foundation for employee growth, productivity, and satisfaction that will help to ensure long-lasting success.

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