The hard facts on soft skills: What REALLY drives workplace performance?

Over the last two to three years, there has been a dramatic shift in the way skills are viewed in the workplace. Business leaders are now recognising that no matter how highly qualified, skilled or intelligent an employee is, if they don’t have strong soft skills they won’t contribute to the workplace in the most meaningful way they can. And with business being conducted at an increasingly fast pace, employers also want people who are agile, adaptable and creative problem solvers.

Performance drives success and soft skills drive performance. It’s those employees with the extra engagement, the additional leadership skills, the extraordinary accountability and the desire to keep learning that really make a difference to an organisation and the world at large. In short, performance skills, that set the quality people apart, are actually soft skills.

These employees are what are referred to as “healthy individuals”. These people:

  • Are self-aware,
  • Have a work-life blend rather than a work-life balance – the latter which implies either/or, and
  • Have mental, emotional, physical and spiritual equilibrium.

There is a proven link between soft skills and profitability

There has been a lot of research published recently that shows there is a direct correlation between profitability and employees’ personal excellence.

Research on more than 200 000 managers and workers at multiple companies during a 10-year period links employee recognition with financial performance. According to the data, companies that effectively recognised personal excellence tripled profitability in comparison with firms that didn’t.

Recruiters want business schools to pay more attention to people-oriented skills

 Conversely, students often complain that those soft skills won’t get them hired and researchers say they are pressuring their business schools to focus on functional or technical content.

Yet according to a recent survey by the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), 67% of HR managers indicated that they would hire an applicant with soft skills whose technical abilities were lacking. However, only 9% would hire someone with strong technical expertise but weak interpersonal skills.

Up-skilling and developing soft skills is key

We now understand that healthy individuals make for healthy companies and a healthy South Africa. While we’re not yet at a place where we can say we have it right – and we probably won’t ever be – businesses are increasingly embarking on new paths.  These new paths will be constantly developing and changing every step of the way.

Business will accept that their workers – starting with their leaders – are whole beings who need to focus on their internal states and well-being to impact their overall health and their work positively.

93% of HR managers say technical skills are easier to teach than soft skills

The most in-demand soft skills in the marketplace:

1.    Organisational skills (87%), 
2.    Verbal communication (81%), 
3.    Teamwork and collaboration (78%),
4.     Problem-solving (60%),
5.     Tact and diplomacy (59%),
6.     Business writing (48%), and 
7.    Analytical skills (45%).

8 ways to improve soft skills

1.    Learn from leaders and others

Provide learning opportunities within your organisation. Encourage your employees to enrol in these and gain as much from them as they can. Every person who touches your life, in and out of work, is a potentially valuable mentor.

2.    Be  self-aware and aware of others

To cultivate better communicators and improved, foster self-awareness and understanding of others’ viewpoints.

3.    Practice mindful listening

It’s not just about hearing what a co-worker is saying but picking up on their tone, body language and subtext and paraphrasing to confirm that you’ve understood what has been said. Ask questions when you require further clarity. This practice promotes better understanding, greater empathy and ultimately improved performance.

4.    Connect with others

Studies show that people who have friendships in the office actually perform better. Learning to deal with conflict in a healthy way and using debate to strengthen working relationships and finding mutually beneficial solutions all provide you with new perspectives.

5.    Be a leader

All good, engaged employees are leaders. This means influencing people¸ becoming a trusted advisor within a work environment and a motivating force in your team. This begins with self-leadership, understanding your work purpose, behaving in a way that is in line with useful values, finding your voice and achieving your potential.

6.    Go for it – take the initiative!

Great performers are all about opportunity and experience. Your employees should go the extra mile and be the person who can always be counted on. That’s how they can learn and grow into becoming a true leader.

7.    Seek feedback

Many people are uncomfortable with criticism but they should always understand that with feedback – good and bad – they are shown areas that require growth.

8.    Be yourself and be kind to yourself

Appreciating ourselves and our self-worth, forgiving ourselves and our shortfalls – these are crucial to being healthy individuals, as is renewing our energy, being ridiculously curious, having fun, practising gratitude, respecting ourselves and actioning our dreams.

by Ricky Robinson

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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