Recently, there has been a flood of articles about the importance of developing soft skills as a way to enhance your career. While there is truth to the premise of all these articles, I take exception to the phrase “soft skills”. There is nothing soft or easy about the skills of communicating, leading, and building relationships. In fact, they are often the hardest skills to master. To make matters worse, it’s an unfortunate truth that until we stop referring to any training that isn’t technical in nature as a soft skill, the training will never be seen as important enough to invest in.
Technical Skill Training Never Gets Cut from the Budget
This viewpoint comes from what now equates to two decades in and around training and development. When I was a young corporate trainer, I started training new customer service reps on how to do their job before they were turned loose on the call center floor to deal with live customers. From there, I moved to teaching other topics like social styles, personality awareness, and problem solving workshops within the same company. Here’s what I learned from that job. The customer service training never got cut when revenues were down. The same wasn’t true for a personality awareness or communication workshop. I was told on more than one occasion that soft skills were optional, technical skills were not.
Soft Skills are Not Optional. They are Required.
The problem is, these skills are not optional. They never have been. The difference is that organizations are finally starting to see the light. In fact, in research conducted by the Carnegie Melon Foundation and the Stanford Research Institute, Fortune 500 CEOs reported that only 25% of a person’s long-term career success was attributed to technical skills. The rest was determined by these soft skills. Source: The Hard Truth about Soft Skills.
The Truth About These Skills
We know there are several truths about these non-technical skills:
- There’s nothing soft about soft skills.
- They are hard to master and carry a big impact when they are mastered.
- They can be learned, just like technical skills.
- There is no truth that leaders are born and not developed.
- Leadership and management is a pattern of repeatable behaviors that can be learned. (We know! We teach leadership skills every day.)
- The lack of these skills are often detrimental to career advancement. There’s an old saying that a person was hired for their technical skill and fired for their people skills.
Plan for Skill Development
Our advice is to simply plan for the skill development that needs to happen to advance your company without the labels of technical or soft skills. For each position, you need to know the competencies that are critical for success. Once the competencies are clear, you put a training plan together to ensure success in the role. This is a mix of job assignments and training experiences. All without artificial labels.
What’s one thing that would help improve the training experiences in your company? We’d love to hear from you.
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