Training Soft Skills: A Complete Guide

Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig
Feb 07 2024
10 min read
Training Soft Skills: A Complete Guide

What You Need to Know About Soft Skills Training

Being in the soft skills training business ourselves, it’s important for Growthspace to understand which skills are most in demand at any given time, and how they are being taught. This helps us and our clients stay on top of such a rapidly changing space, both in terms of technology and content. Now that we’ve begun 2024, let’s have a look at the employee soft skills training concepts that are making all the difference to productive organizations everywhere.   

Why Are Soft Skills Important in the Workplace?

Soft skills are now seen as being at least as important as hard skills, particularly with the advent of artificial intelligence. As Forbes suggests, it is soft skills that will come out on top because the human intuition that they are based on cannot be replaced by AI. But even without the advance of AI, soft skills still dominate. In the modern workplace, soft skills “are the foundation of effective teamwork and organizational success”. 

In this environment, L&D professionals have their work cut out for them. Even recent college graduates are lacking in vital abilities such as communication skills; 70% of business leaders state that new hires are poorly prepared for the workforce due to this issue. Helping them to develop soft skills is the responsibility of HR and L&D teams.

What Matters More at Work – Soft or Hard Skills?

Yet at the same time, working with AI often relies on programming and similar hard skills. As this technology becomes even more ingrained in economies, only time will tell which is more crucial: hard or soft skills

But if one were to wage a bet, soft skills look like the winner. Hard skills can usually be acquired to some degree through the right course. However, it’s very difficult for someone with poor soft skills to succeed anywhere, because their ability to engage in vital interpersonal relationships is limited. This is why a deficiency in soft skills is cited as being the source of 86% of workplace failures

How Should Soft Skills Training Be Delivered?

When it comes to soft skills training for employees, there are endless options, from short online courses to MBA programs and beyond.

The first decision to make is, who will provide the training. At Growthspace, we divide L&D experts into three categories:

  1. Trainers – Those who provide short-term training in very specific subjects, such as using Slack for internal communications
  2. Mentors – People with experience in the employee’s industry who provide workplace skill counseling through close observation; they can be either internal or external 
  3. Coaches – Professionals who provide long-term advising on major issues; according to the ‘clean coaching’ model, coaches should not have experience in the employee’s industry in order to avoid bias

The choice of expert depends on the skill being taught, and to illustrate, we’ve provided some examples below.

Secondly, there’s the question of how L&D should be provided. Traditionally, experts delivered in-person lessons, either at the employee’s workplace or at an education center. Since COVID-19, people have grown much more accustomed to online soft skills training. Online training has also revealed the effectiveness of sprint-based, personalized courses, and concepts like gamification. Still, some professional development programs remain in-person, such as mentoring initiatives that require on-site observation.           

How to Improve Soft Skills

The best way to improve soft skills is to never let them lag! With a continuous development program, employees are regularly buffing up the skills that boost their careers and their employer’s competitiveness. 

But when this is not the case, the initial step in soft skills training is to conduct a skills gap analysis:

1. Positions

The first part of the analysis is to create a map of all of the existing and projected employee positions in the company. In essence, this means creating a forward-looking organizational chart. To make the chart as complete as possible, HR should look at job requirements in terms of current demand, near-term strategy, and the effect of turnover. Stakeholders like managers should also be consulted to find out what recommendations they have for job positions.

2. Processes

The next phase is to build an “inventory” by listing the processes, enabled by skills, which are related to each position. A common mistake during this stage is to think only about hard skills, particularly for technical jobs. Of course, they are essential, but modern companies are discovering that soft skills enhance every role. Even the most independent technician must deal with supervisors, coworkers, and customers, and that means soft skill competency on various levels. During this step, don’t forget to check employee evaluations, interview managers, and ask the employees themselves about the skills they feel would help them do a better job. 

3. Priorities

The final step is to compare the lists resulting from the previous two phases. There will be some gaps between the skills you listed in the ‘positions’ step and those confirmed ‘as inventory’ during the ‘processes’ step. The skills related to those gaps should be put in order of priority, with the most important ones being those that are absent from inventory yet urgent to current operations, followed by essential skills where employees are weak.

Once the analysis is finished, it’s time to plug those gaps by finding homegrown talent through an internal talent development program; importing the skills through outside hires, and reskilling/upskilling your people with L&D. 

This last option is probably the best, seeing as it addresses a major reason for an employee to move to a new job. This can take the form of online soft skills training, long-term mentoring, and in-person coaching. But HR/L&D professionals need to take care – the common “one size fits all” solution is a waste of time. To engage employees with truly meaningful training, organizations must ensure that workers are taught exactly the skills they need by top authorities in those subjects. 

What Soft Skills Training Programs Are in Demand Right Now?

This is a question that you should ask yourself every six months or so because the rate of soft skills turnover is high. The onset of COVID demanded new skill sets for emotional intelligence and active listening, among others, and L&D professionals had to scramble to deliver the appropriate programs. Now, as we face a difficult economic situation, let’s take a fresh look at the training programs that will cover the most important soft skills in 2024. 

1. Productivity Skills

Training in productivity skills is essential for companies that must deliver a service or physical item efficiently and on time. Productivity skills include several skill elements, including orderliness, concentration, and awareness of your ability for additional tasks. One of the most efficient ways to boost productivity skills is with an internal mentor. They can observe an employee over time and advise them on making small changes to their routine that can make a big difference to their output.  

2. Communication Skills 

Nobody is a perfect communicator. There are so many elements related to communication that skill training in this area is potentially continuous throughout an employee’s career, particularly if they reach the top levels of the organization. But improving your communication skills is never a waste of time. It’s best to work with a coach who specializes in communications, whether that’s developing charisma, understanding body language, making a great first impression, building trust, or another of the many nuances that come with communication.

3. Teamwork Skills

Do all of those digital tools and remote workspaces make us less connected? Not really. The average knowledge worker spends about half of their time in a collaborative role, and that rate has increased over the years. During that time, certain skills are essential, such as problem-solving and critical thinking. If you find that such abilities are lacking in your teams, coaching is a great way to deliver teamwork skills training. With their objective view, coaches can understand the teamwork challenges of which employees are often unaware. 

4. Time Management Skills

A lack of time management skills is infectious. When one employee is late at completing a task, it can affect the entire team, including their levels of stress. For a manager, the ability to complete tasks properly despite deadlines is even more critical as they need to decide on schedules for their subordinates as well as themselves. 

There is no quick fix for advancing one’s time management skills. Instead, employees need to learn the steps of proper time management, and perhaps additional elements like availability awareness. Both trainers and mentors can be useful – trainers to instruct employees in the use of time management tools like scheduling software, and mentors to actually watch where the employee is making mistakes. As part of the training, give employees mini “homework assignments” to deliver certain tasks by a certain time, which gives them a chance to practice their time management. 

5. Leadership Skills

Strong leadership skills are critical for our uncertain world, and it’s the number one soft skill employees need in 2024.

Not all leaders are managers. So, when you recognize a leader, hang on to them! Good leadership results in better employee engagement, succession initiatives, strategic abilities, and overall effectiveness. To make sure that your talent stays, it’s essential to give them the tools they need to succeed, and that means upskilling and reskilling. Organizations that skip talent development programs risk losing their best people – a lack of L&D opportunities is one of the main reasons for employees to quit their jobs.  

6. Self-Management Skills

Self-management skills are similar to productivity skills. To get a job done with minimal supervision, a person needs to be organized and understand their availability for additional tasks. Independence also demands great time management skills and a professional outlook that inspires a person to take ownership of their role.   

One of the training ‘tricks’ used by L&D practitioners is assigning a coach or mentor, setting a number of goals, and explaining how they can be accomplished through the steps of proper self-management. Then, with an occasional email or text message, the coach/mentor tracks the employee’s progress as they go about their daily activities or work towards a specific goal. If the employee seems to be slipping, the coach can remind them of proper self-management techniques. 

The point is to gently nudge the employee towards getting rid of the habits that lead to poor productivity. Such an ‘accountability’ initiative can create miracles – it’s been claimed that having accountability support improves the chances of completing a goal by 95%

Growthspace and the Journey Towards Soft Skill Success

There’s no shortage of soft skills for your employees to work on, but there may be a lack of L&D capability. No matter the size of your organization, matching skill gaps with experts who specialize in that particular field for each employee is nearly impossible. That’s why our mission is democratizing employee and talent development, and making HR and L&D teams the heroes of their organizations.

With Growthspace, it’s “problem solved”. Our market-leading platform is a talent development solution that matches renowned experts to the exact topics that you’re looking for. Then, through our methodology, your L&D programs are fulfilled in record time and graded using an intuitive scale so that you can assess ROI and expand development initiatives.  

Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig is an organizational development strategist at Growthspace. With an MSc in Industrial Organizational Psychology and experience in Talent and Organizational Development roles in various organizations, Eric leverages his subject matter expertise to share knowledge and best practices, build guides and materials, develop & execute new and impactful programs and products, and help enable both Growthspace and their customers in achieving their strategic initiatives. Eric is a husband, a father, an amateur musician, an avid hockey fan (Lets Go Rangers!) and a functional cereal addict

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