I have been working with organizations, employee development and leadership for over 30 years. And you know what? I have very rarely faced performance issues that have to do with pure lack of technical knowledge, or the actual capacity to do the job. When an individual is just not the right fit based on mental and/or physical capabilities. I have however experienced an overwhelming number of challenges in soft skills gaps.
At their core, these are the skills that define how you work and how you interact with other people. They are important in all roles and all organizations. So, I often wonder why they are even called soft, which sounds fluffy—when in fact they are so many times, the key difference between success and failure.
And that is precisely why they are so hard. They are hard to define. They’re squishy. And hard to prioritize. Soft skills make you an effective employee. They provide you with the tools to create strong and powerful relationships. They give you leadership impact. The ability to motivate and influence. The power to inspire.
They're hard because there are so many of them to learn and master. Which are the most important for the job you have and the job you aspire to have in the future? How do you get these vital skills?
Sometimes your employer helps you out. And does the heavy lifting for you. When that happens it’s great. It provides a roadmap for your success.
I’ve been involved in the development of many competency models. A competency model is a framework of the skills required in a job, or organization. The organizational approach means there is a definition of the skills everyone needs to demonstrate to be successful in the company. The skills are then prioritized. Because we simply cannot expect every employee to demonstrate every soft skill effectively. And by not having some type of standard, that is kind of what we are saying.
And in the defining and prioritizing, we can then assess and train. Which has also been at the core of what I’ve done for decades, so in my unbiased perspective, this is incredibly valuable.
There is significant value in this process, because then there is a path for employees to follow. A roadmap to success and career development. And we want that, the map to growth and mastery. Creating an environment in which I know how to contribute, how to grow, is an employment differentiator. And the ability to master new skills is also intrinsically motivating. And this leads to improved engagement.
Here’s a process to follow:
1. Engage top leaders and performers to define the most critical skills that drive success in your particular industry and organization.
2. Prioritize the list: scrutinize and select which are most vital; this is a challenge. Less is better, ideal being between 4 and 7.
3. Define each competency behaviorally. Meaning define what makes each competency actionable.
4. Then weave the framework, the skills into your organizational fabric, meaning performance and salary reviews, communications, learning and development, manager training, hiring practices, reward systems, etc.
5. When providing learning experiences, reinforce the skills that will be developed during the training.
6. Reinforce the competencies and expectations whenever and however you can. And then do it some more. Because information is rampant and we’re overwhelmed, we need focus and clarity.
Soft skills are hard because there is a lack of clarity in what is essential. When everything is important, nothing is important.
Drive or support this process! Then tackle the hard job of learning the soft skills.
Be the best leader you know, learn more now!