Finding Time to Improve Soft Skills in Employees

As leaders and executives, it’s our job to find the strengths in our peers and employees. But as you know, no one can be great at everything. While an employee or teammate may excel in one area (often called their “hard skill”), they may be sorely lacking in other skills (called “soft skills”). Soft skills can seem minor, but may actually affect the impact of the work they were hired to do.

Soft skills include things like:

  • Critical thinking "on the fly"
  • Problem-solving with a team
  • Accurate, concise communication
  • Time management abilities
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Basic use of company property

In each position and organization, soft skills manifest differently. For one position, it may mean that an employee is fantastic at sales but terrible at following up with a client via email. In one organization it may mean being able to use the copy machine without it breaking, while another company may expect new ideas and input from entry-level employees.

As an executive, it is our job to determine which soft skills an employee or group is lacking and then find the resources (time, materials, funds, etc.) to try and improve those skills.

Cutting Out “Training Time”

For most organizations, the most valuable resource is an employee’s time. It’s hard to take a person away from their work even for a couple of hours, but if soft skills are damaging their work quality, it becomes necessary. 

One of the best ways to do this is to ask the employee (or team) when they have some time to set aside for training. They can let you know when their calendars are open - all you have to do is make it happen.

The amount of time needed for soft skills training depends, naturally, on the skills being addressed. If an employee consistently ruins client contracts due to lack of communication, training may take longer. If it’s simply asking an employee to enter their time into the time tracking software, that can take just a few minutes.

Before you set up the time for training, make sure you have a plan in place for training - and that you know how long it will take. If you’re not sure, build a buffer or ask for multiple training dates to be scheduled.

Challenging Without Criticizing

The other key component to soft skills improvement is making sure that an employee or group does not feel singled out within the organization. If an employee notices that he or she is being asked to attend extra “training,” it may make them feel attacked.

To alleviate this concern, make sure that you provide a simple explanation for the initial request, as well as explain what sort of training you’ll be providing. Know that a person or group may have questions about why they need training; be prepared to answer these honestly but not critically. From there, you can provide the training session on tips for teamwork, communication standards, or whichever soft skill needs work.

Once the “training” has ended, it’s important to have a few, achievable tasks that an employee can immediately implement that shows their comprehension of the training. For example, an employee who struggles with problem-solving may be asked to find a client issue in today’s emails that they can respond to and resolve without help from management.

Building confidence in soft skills is one of the best ways to improve them - without wasting your time or theirs.