You can’t throw a stone around workforce development circles without hitting an attempt at “soft skills” training. “Soft skills” refers to the intangible things that make people successful at their work or good employees. It’s a buzz word to describe things like being on-time (an industry favorite), communication, and taking initiative.
First let’s be clear about one thing. These and other skills in the suite of intangibles are the reasons people get hired or fired. They easily make up the reasons why 95% of employment changes hands. Given this, they seem to be gravely mislabeled. These aren’t “soft” skills. I’m not even sure what that means. They’re CRITICAL skills. It is critical to gaining and maintaining employment that you arrive when you are expected, interact with your team in a positive and productive way, are motivated to do your job well and most importantly figure out what all those things are in any given situation.
Critical skills and the industry’s desire to teach or instill them is fascinating. Here is a sample of the skills that workforce development organizations want to teach:
-Ability to listen
-Decision making/ problem solving
-Functioning well under pressure
-Managing difficult conversations
-Performing effectively in deadline environment
-Willingness to learn
Right now the industry is attempting to “teach” or address these and other concepts, through short workshops (Be on time and communicate in 2.5 hours of PowerPoint perfection.), computer simulations and independent study.
I will say this decisively: These attributes are developed from practice and coaching NOT from reading a book, clicking though role playing simulations or watching a PowerPoint presentation. After time spent in a classroom job seekers are assessed as to what they have retained. Last year Oregon State rolled out their new assessment which revolves around answering questions on videos so relevant that they reference floppy disks. I can safely say many intangibles have changed in the workplace since the use of floppy disks.
Don’t worry. There is a better way. It just requires a reorientation of our mindset when it comes to these critical skills.
The biggest reorientation is around thinking that we can “teach” them at all. That we can simply tell someone to do it and wahla! Think for a minute about your own life. Think about times you have displayed these skills. I bet I could make some guesses about the circumstances around these situations.
- You liked your job.
- You got along with people you worked with.
- You felt like a valued member of the team.
- Your responsibilities were accurately matched with your skillset/abilities or you were even a bit challenged.
- You cared. Your values were in line with those of the organization.
- You were trusted to do your best work.
Now think about the jobs you’ve had that have not met most of the above criteria. Weren’t so motivated to show up on time then, were you?
Even when you were just starting out in the workforce these skills that you picked up came to you through coaching. Your 16 year old, ambitious self was hired and the employer took the chance on your inexperience. He coached you up and you practiced. Over and over in a variety of situations you practiced and honed these intangible skills.
From this standpoint a new perspective and approach can be found. An approach that stands on two principles:
- Teaching low level employees “soft skills” while the C- suite gets lauded for their unique personality and style is a form of divisiveness and an attempt to control vs. inspire.
- People will take initiative and work within teams when they feel they are critical to the purpose of the work.
So let’s flip the script…let’s put the onus on the employing company to inspire greatness and belonging. And let’s use long-term coaching solutions to bring about critical skills from the basis of personal growth and a means to getting good work done.
It’s worth mentioning A Social Ignition takes care of the second part. It’s up to you and your company to do the first.