“Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission,” so said Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox. So how do you continue to make your employees a substantial part of a company’s success? The answer may surprise you.
Improving or increasing revenues, making sales, satisfying customer needs, all require more than merely describing the attributes of a product or service. The improvement of an employee’s performance is not merely improving product knowledge and not improving selling skills, of course those are important. It also means finding ways to critically assess your employee’s soft skills, and develop programs that will improve their performance, thereby improving revenue and, ultimately, the value of your business.
How then do we differentiate hard and soft skills? Hard skills are referring to skills defining the ability to do the job, and those competencies include the technical ability, the knowledge of the job and core attributes of the products or services, and the qualifications of that individual. Soft skills, on the other hand, are personality traits that are individual to the person and may include “skills” like motivation, communication, and other interpersonal skills.
Alison Doyle, a career and job search guru, in an internet published paper, stated: “soft skills is a term used by employers to refer to the most intangible and non-technical abilities that are sought from candidates.” Furthermore, she goes on to state, “soft skills are sometimes referred to as professional skills. These skills are skills are more aligned with the general disposition and personality of the individual.” These skills can be related to your own attitudes and instincts and other personality traits that influence behavior, day in and day out.
What are the key soft skills? Various institutions and individuals have complied a list of those traits that are the most important soft skills and here is a combined list of significant soft skills. Please note that there are other important soft skills that can be added to this list.
- Communication: the capability of speaking intelligently and understandably, listening, writing clearly and effectively presenting information.
- Interpersonal Skills: courtesy, etiquette, being respectful, good business manners, professionalism, personable, empathetic, upbeat social skills.
- Integrity: high morals, ethical behavior, honesty, treating others as one expects to be treated.
- Flexibility: adaptability, the willingness and ability to accept and develop new skills and grow. The ability to accept new things and ideas, and change as the business changes.
- Positive Attitude: confident, optimistic outlook, enthusiastic, passionate, excited about work and life.
- Responsibility: gets the job done, resourceful, accountable for goals and objectives, self-disciplined, and the ability to accept training and grow personally.
- Teamwork: gets along with others, compatible with others, supportive, can lead or follow depending on the goal and circumstance, gets things done through and with team members.
- Work Ethic/Motivation: hard working, work well individually, desire to succeed, thrive in the work environment without outside supervision, demonstrates initiative.
- Problem Solving: approaches problems analytically and critically, uses the team to assist, level headed approach to solutions, creative with solutions.
These soft skills are thought to be the most relevant and important in the work environment. Improving these skills, where and when appropriate, with individual employees can bring about positive changes to the success and value of a business or institution. The importance can be further substantiated in a statement from Carnegie Mellon foundation, which established that “75% of long term job success resulted from soft skills and only 25% from technical skills, hence soft skills are as important as technical skills.”
Why do soft skills matter? Careers, professions, and companies that focus on the soft skills, in addition to the hard skills, are more successful. Developing and improving soft skills can improve productivity, improving the total financial aspect of a company, not only the top line, but the bottom line as well.
Improving employee soft skills can have a significant positive effect on employee retention. Keeping employees for multiple years instead of rapid turnover reduces all of the costs associated with the hiring and training process. Employees who are satisfied with their long-term development will have improved self-worth, improved self-esteem, improved self-confidence, all of which contributes to the improved success of the company.