Soft Skills are a Hard Requirement for Organizational Success

Here are some innovative ways that organizations can develop a culture that values soft skills.

team working together
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In today's hybrid world of work, soft skills need to be given the same prominence as hard skills in every role within an organization. Soft skills are human traits that are not necessarily measurable, but play a pivotal role in quantifiable performance.

Soft skills are qualitative traits like the ability to collaborate, being able to express yourself and communicate freely, accepting different opinions, emotional and mental resilience, and a positive attitude and team support. Whether or not you achieve a quantifiable goal often comes down to whether you possess these qualitative traits. Teams that are strong in these skills usually have a higher probability of achieving directional prosperity because they have the skills needed to adapt and pivot as their environments and resources change.

Employers who rely on teams that only possess hard skills (like technical knowledge) only get so far. They achieve functional prosperity, which is limiting because it depends on everything staying the same. Any changes could result in negative performance because their teams do not have the skills needed to cope. A 2019 global talent trend report revealed that 89% of employers felt that bad hires often lacked soft skills.

Developing soft skills within an organization is an ever-evolving process because we live in an ever-evolving society. Organizations have to re-evaluate old practices and introduce new ones at the same time.

Accepting and respecting cultural and gender differences, acknowledging and empathizing with mental health struggles, creating a safe working environment void of harassment and ensuring a fair grievance process are just some of the dynamics that organizations have to address. Creating a foundation for organizations and their people to cultivate a "soft skill culture" where the overall prosperity of the team is given equal importance to the prosperity of the organization is becoming vitally important.

Assessing soft skills is still a challenge for organizations, primarily because it's not easily quantifiable. Performance reviews have a smaller section on soft skills and focus more on quantifiable targets, giving the wrong idea of what's more important. A way around this dilemma is to focus on creating a proactive culture of developing and rewarding soft skills that lead to better performance.

Here are some innovative ways that organizations can develop a culture that values soft skills:

1. Reverse Mentoring

In normal mentoring relationships, employees seek to grow their potential and benefit from senior advice. Reverse mentoring is where team leaders get advice from their employees so they are in the know. For example, some leaders lack the ability to communicate compassionately and they delegate ineffectively simply because they are not on the ground. Having a few mentors in their teams who can give advice on how to best communicate and delegate tasks reflects a desire to be empathetic and a willingness to listen to those below them in the organizational hierarchy. Implementing reverse mentoring is a clear sign that the organization values and emphasizes collaboration and open communication across all levels. It gives employees a voice in how they want to be treated.

2. Third-Party Assessment

Performance reviews on soft skills should include input from third parties like the office receptionist, mailroom person, building security personnel, cleaning crew and others. This is an effective way to assess the true integrity of an employee when they feel that no one is watching. It ensures a culture of safety and well-being because every employee knows they must show respect to everyone at every level.

3. Team Watch

Most organizations' approach to well-being is limited to gym memberships, medical coverage and discounted access to health apps. While these have value, most organizations lack informal internal support system. For example, just like there is neighborhood watch, where neighbors look out for the safety of their locality, team watch is where members look out for each other's mental and emotional safety. With mental and emotional health struggles on the rise in the workplace, organizations are under pressure to prioritize mental well-being at work. Providing teams with training on how to look out for each other and how to recognize signs of stress and burnout among their colleagues is a reflection of the organization's empathy toward these challenges.

4. Proactive Training

Regular training is expensive, time-consuming and sometimes overtly theoretical. Often, training sessions have case studies that explain the methodology and procedure for a given situation. These case studies are based in the past.

Proactive training is where a real-life case is identified that will arise in the near future and the team is trained to develop a series of tactics, procedures and protocols to manage this scenario. Proactive training is incredibly valuable in providing these real-life scenarios to teams and showing them the importance of preparation, collaboration, communication, delegation and much more. Once this scenario materializes and the team starts to execute its plan, feedback is then expressed among the team and lessons shared. Applying these skills to real-life situations and "learning while doing" is one of the quickest ways of infusing soft skills in a team.

In a world that is focused on the race toward artificial intelligence, the time-tested winners will be those who nurture and nourish emotional and mental intelligence. Much is made of the "great resignation," but in this readjustment and reallocation of resources lies great opportunity for employers and employees to mutually showcase their respect for and reward of a "softer side" in the interest of delivering hard results.

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