Let’s face it: Soft skills like critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and collaboration skills are things that every employer would want their employee to have. However, it is quite common for employers to look over soft skills and just focus on technical skills. The majority of attention in the management world has been focused more on hiring employees already with those soft skills than developing them in current employees.
For many companies, employee development often ends up at the bottom of a very long list. However, employee development is a long-term initiative that should be at the top of your to-do list. Not to mention that it also leads to short-term benefits like increased loyalty and improved performance. Bottom line is that your people are your company, they want to feel that their company genuinely cares and is committed to supporting them.
Soft skills can’t be learned by just studying about them. They have to be learned through a process of change that can be difficult and uncomfortable at times but can have amazing effects on your company’s bottom line. Here are five tips for developing your employee’s soft skills:
1. Give Constructive Feedback
Good employees want to know how they are doing within their positions and whether or not they can be doing better. Feedback and constructive criticism help to evaluate an employee’s strengths and weaknesses as to describe the natural tendencies an individual has. The feedback any company or manager relays to their employee should be constructive in its nature as well as specific and constructive.
It is essential to set quantitative metrics to help an employee understand where they stand, where they need to be, and what they can realistically set as a goal. This helps build soft skills because, as the set metrics are met, the employee feels a continued sense of accomplishment and will set out to make and break more goals.
Measuring progress also provides evidence of how these activities are working and drives accountability when paired with effective leadership. If feedback is used properly as a constructive rather than a destructive tool for growth it will make a measurable difference and help your employee develop their soft skills.
2. Provide Mentoring Opportunities
A mentoring program can do so much for your business and your team, from boosting company culture to building employee loyalty. Employees helping their peers to be even more skilled and talented is a concept that should not be overlooked, so tap into your resources! According to this piece in Harvard Business Review,
"When company leaders are intentional about having the right conversations regularly take place, employees can self-reflect on their accomplishments, and managers can support them in achieving their true potential.”
An employee will see the value of the development process when they see higher-ups within the company continue to develop personally and professionally. It shows employees that their development is crucial to the organization’s culture and continued improvement.
3. Soft Skill Education
While soft skills cannot simply be learned from memorizing textbooks, they can be introduced and adopted through employee training channels. Companies can augment their employees' soft skills with business books, seminars, and access to e-learning on topics from project management to marketing.
It's possible to find training that specializes in letting employees practice using their soft skills in real-life situations ( i.e.- communication, conflict resolution, time management, etc.) There are also less formalized methods to increase their soft skills abilities. Something as simple as reading one or two online posts or articles per week can help employees stay up-to-date with industry trends and new practices, strategies, and tactics that others have found successful.
4. Networking Events and Resources
Staying connected and knowing others in the business will help your employee grow in their role over time. So introduce your employees to other professionals that can serve as mentors or coaches, sign them up for professional industry associations, send them to training courses and workshops, and create and attend networking events.
Getting them connected to a network offers a way to get additional support, advice, and information on how to grow professionally and personally. Networking will not only develop communication and interpersonal skills within individual employees, it will also benefit your company by giving your organization another ambassador, potential business contacts and more.
5. Recognize and Encourage Growth
As your employee gains more soft skills, make sure they are aware that you are aware. In other words, recognize their accomplishments in concrete ways. Give praise frequently and publicly. Introduce job perks or bonuses for excellent performance by employees. Find out what motivates them as employees to work harder and implement those into your recognition program. According to a study by the APA,
"93% of employees who feel valued are more motivated to do their best work. Keeping employees happy and appreciated is an easy way to encourage growth. They’ll feel excited about the prospect of learning more because you recognize what they’ve already done.”
If an employee is improving, offer opportunities, promotions, and/or more responsibilities that will give them a sense of accomplishment as well as instill a growth-mindset mentality into your workforce.These tactics for developing an employee’s soft skills will shape your company’s future leadership. Whether an organization leverages a few or all of the tactics listed here, it is critical that each is used consistently and communicated clearly.