3 Soft Skills Training Tips For L&D And HR Managers Who Want Results

Soft Skills Training Tips For L&D And HR Managers Who Want Results
Summary: As machines take over jobs that require hard skills, soft skills are more and more in demand. But how can you train people skills like communication and creativity? Here are some pointers.

Soft Skills Training Tips That Bring Instant Results

Workers are understandably nervous about automation taking over their jobs. As Artificial Intelligence improves, it’s taking over many jobs—from customer service to warehouse jobs—that were being done by humans. In fact, according to McKinsey Global Institute research [1], by 2055, as many as half of the current work activities may be automated. This might sound alarming, but while stocking shelves, creating websites, or even diagnosing diseases are skills AI might be able to perform in the near future, there are certain skills machines cannot duplicate; soft skills. Thus, L&D and HR managers need to discover the following soft skills training tips to properly implement them in employee training.

eBook Release: The New Essentials Of Employee Training: Cultivating Engagement And Enjoyment
eBook Release
The New Essentials Of Employee Training: Cultivating Engagement And Enjoyment
Learn how to increase employee engagement and how to get learners to enjoy the experience of learning.

What Are Soft Skills?

While hard skills are typically the sort of skills employees list on a resume (cloud computing is a hard skill, for example, as is sales), soft skills are behavior-related, cognitive, and related to personal traits. They’re all things humans are good at, and AI has a hard time duplicating. For example, earlier this year, LinkedIn’s research identified the 5 most in-demand soft skills for 2020 [2]:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Emotional intelligence

However, even if a manager has never heard the term “soft skills” before, every manager knows an employee with poor soft skills when they see one; an employee with poorly developed soft skills might have the hard skills to do their job but they might be consistently late to work, not follow instructions well, and have a hard time communicating with coworkers.

In the past, the manager might have just assumed that the employee was difficult to work with, fired them, and hired someone with the right soft skills: planning ahead, following directions, and communication.

Now, we know better. You don’t have to trade hard skills for soft skills because soft skills aren’t just part of someone’s personality. They’re just what they say they are, skills, and skills can be taught and nurtured.

Can They Be Trained?

Like hard skills, soft skills can be trained in your employees. It takes a different approach in order to train a skill like collaboration than it does to update your team on a new company policy, but it is possible, and it starts with simply recognizing that your employees aren’t born good communicators or creators.

Someone along the line, maybe a family member or a teacher in elementary school, taught your most creative employee to be creative. Someone taught an employee with grit how to persevere. Someone taught your best communicator how to effectively get through to their coworkers.

You can also develop your employees’ soft skills as part of a training or learning program. How? Here are 3 soft skills training tips.

1. Offer Opportunities For Practice

You can’t just offer a lesson or a seminar on communication or creativity and then expect a fully creative, communicative team. Soft skills are like a muscle that needs to be built up. Your team has to practice in order to develop them. Give them opportunities during work activities to practice, and make it safe for them to fail during this practice time.

How might this look? If you’re teaching creativity, this might look like regular brainstorming sessions with coworkers to get your team to think outside the box. If you’re teaching collaboration, it might mean bringing small groups of employees together regularly to work on projects. If you’re teaching adaptability, encourage employees to experiment with projects that don’t work.

An article in Inc. [3], which explores practice opportunities for the 5 most in-demand soft skills for 2020, suggests that employees be encouraged to recommend or test alternate ideas when starting any major project.

2. Teach By Example

Soft skills are people skills. Skills like communication, manners, good listening, persuasion, and timeliness make your employees a pleasure to work with, and so they’re often confused with personality traits. But while they are teachable skills, sometimes it’s best to teach soft skills by example. In fact, some of your employees with good people skills were probably taught by example at home or by their earliest teachers.

That’s something that can happen in work too, through coaching or mentoring initiatives.

At high-performing companies, Gallup finds [4], managers tend to act more as coaches than as bosses. They are closely involved in the development of their team, and that means they can engage employees one-on-one, model soft skills for them, and offer personalized feedback.

Employees are more likely to value their immediate manager’s feedback about their soft skills above anyone else’s—if someone from HR offered a critique about emotional intelligence or communication skills, that might just be seen as an insult. But through coaching and example, managers can demonstrate the soft skills they want to develop in their employees.

3. Include Soft Skills In Your Courses

While lecturing about the importance of soft skills is probably not terribly effective—no one likes to be lectured about the importance of time management like a child—it’s important that employees also realize that soft skills are skills that can be developed, rather than part of who they are as people.

For that reason, it is important to include soft skills in your training package, either as courses or as modules. Fortunately, this sort of learning content is readily available off-the-shelf, and not something your L&D department has to develop in-house. Courses about soft skills can be particularly helpful if you’re using coaching and practice, because they back up the lessons employees are learning on the job about soft skills with learning content about those skills. If someone is learning about emotional intelligence on the job, they can review content about it later and boost retention.

Soft Skills Are Important For Both Your Workers And Your Workplace

Right now technology is changing fast. The half-life of a hard skill is about 5 years these days [5], which means your team will need to be trained more or less continuously to keep up with the tech they use for work.

Soft skills, however, are eternal. Once an employee has mastered a skill like adaptability, they’re adaptable. Once they’re actively creative, they’re creative. This will benefit them personally as they advance in their own careers, and your organization, as it’s changed by new and evolving technology. Dig in the eBook The New Essentials Of Employee Training: Cultivating Engagement And Enjoyment to discover more about employee training.


[1] Harnessing automation for a future that works

[2] The Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills of 2020

[3] The Top 5 Soft Skills of 2020 and How to Develop Them

[4] What High-Performance Workplaces Do Differently

[5] The Half-Life of Skills

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