Case please find article attached please answer the following question In your organization, how are soft skills assessed in the hiring process? Are

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In your organization, how are soft skills assessed in the hiring process?
Are

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  1. In your organization, how are soft skills assessed in the hiring process? 
  2. Are soft skills part of your organization’s professional development? If so, what format is used to deliver soft skills training? Do you think it is effective?
  3. A number of soft skills are mentioned in the article. Thinking as a manager/leader, what soft skills are most important to meet your team/unit’s performance goals?

72 HR MAGAZINE SUMMER 2021

The Hard Facts About

eing gifted at performing the technical

aspects of a job can take an employee

only so far. To become a stellar employee

or an admired leader requires an arsenal of skills that

are harder to measure but critical to success.

Dubbed “soft skills,” they are behaviors, personality

traits and work habits, such as collaboration, critical

thinking, perseverance and communication, that help

people prosper at work. Think of it this way: A talented

graphic designer might wow people with her creations,

but if she constantly misses deadlines or doesn’t listen

to feedback—leading to costly project delays or upset

clients—her career might stall.

There are many ways a lack of soft skills such as de-

pendability, time management and critical thinking

can derail an employee with solid technical skills. Ac-

cording to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report,

89 percent of recruiters say when a hire doesn’t work out,

it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills.

Perhaps realizing this, many employers are priori-

tizing soft skills during hiring. Monster’s The Future

of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook reported that

when employers were asked to name the top skills

they want in employees, they cited soft skills such as

dependability, teamwork/collaboration, f lexibility

and problem-solving.

While most people are hired for their technical

abilities, their soft skills give them “career durabil-

ity,” says Alexandra Levit, a workforce futurist and

author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies

and People for the Workforce of the Future (Kogan

Page, 2018). She def ines that term as the ability to

acquire the skills, knowledge and mindset needed to

be an engaged and productive member of the team.

“For someone to be successful 10 years down the

road, they need to be resilient and be able to rein-

vent themselves in different learning environments,”

she adds.

SOFT
SKILLS

Why you should teach employees to be
more resilient, communicative and creative.

By Kate Rockwood

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74 HR MAGAZINE SUMMER 2021

THE HARD FACTS ABOUT SOFT SKILLS

SORTING SOFT SKILLS

The beauty of soft skills is that they’re highly

transferable. Creativity, responsibility and

excellent communication skills can be ap-

plied to any job. But how can HR profes-

sionals tell which soft skills need shoring up

or matter most in their workplaces?

Conducting a skills or training needs as-

sessment can be a great way to find out, and

the HR team might already have much of

the information it needs, says Abby White,

SHR M-CP, CEO of Gró HR Consulting,

based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ask manag-

ers to look through their team members’

past performance reviews to identify soft-

skill weak spots as well as proficiencies

such as how employees respond to e-mail

or their attitudes during and involvement

in team meetings.

“ Watch for those t y pes of behav iors

where there’s a chance for improvement,”

White says.

Self-assessments and 360-degree feed-

back reports can be used in combination to

prioritize the soft skills employees need to

work on, says Di Ann Sanchez, SHRM-SCP,

founder of DAS HR Consulting LLC in Hurst,

Texas. She points to the surprising results of

her own past 360-degree feedback as an example of how

employees can learn from the way others perceive them.

“The lowest score in my 360 was always communication,

which shocked me because I think I’m a great communica-

tor,” Sanchez says.

But after learning that some co-workers found her style

intimidating, Sanchez asked to work with a communication

coach, who she says helped her to be more

aware of her audience. She stresses that it’s

also important for companies to consider

bias and cultural and gender differences

when evaluating soft skills.

“An aggressive communication style, for

example, might be treated as more accept-

able in men,” she says. “You need to be sensi-

tive to different gender perspectives but not

hold people to wildly different standards.”

To f ind out which soft skills are most

needed in an organization, look no further

than your most successful employees. See if

there are certain traits they share that allow

them to prosper in your workplace. Sanchez

also recommends that HR professionals ask

executives what their top four or five most-

wanted employee soft skills are to ensure

buy-in. And when in doubt, reread some of

your company’s literature.

“ Take a look at your company’s value

statements and think about your com-

pany’s culture,” Sanchez says. “Those are

your company’s priorities when it comes

to soft skills.”

ARE THEY TEACHABLE?

The path to teaching someone a technical

skill, such as how to drive using a stick shift, is tangible.

The process might not be pretty—picture lots of herky-jerky

braking and clutching—but it’s fairly clear.

Conversely, teaching someone how to be more patient, a

better team player or more innovative may not follow a pre-

determined formula, but it still can be done. While it’s true

that some people have innate personality traits that allow

MOST-WANTED SOFT SKILLS

What are the top skills employers are looking for?

A survey of 3,100 recruiters from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Germany,

the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden revealed the most in-demand skills:

Dependability Teamwork/ Problem-solving Flexibility

Source: The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook, Monster.

‘Companies
have a lot
to gain by
treating

soft skills
as they

would any
technical

skill.’
LIZ CANNATA

collaboration

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SUMMER 2021 H R M AG A Z I N E 7 5

them to evince certain soft skills more nat-

urally, these skills are also honed over time.

“Companies have a lot to gain by treating

soft skills as they would any technical skill,”

says Liz Cannata, vice president of human

resources for Chicago-based talent acqui-

sition company CareerBuilder.

Sometimes an employee is deficient in a

certain soft skill because of a lack of expe-

rience or a previous situation. White cites

the example of one of her employees who

appeared unable to solve problems inde-

pendently. But it wasn’t because the em-

ployee lacked the ability to make decisions.

It was because she had previously worked

for a micromanaging supervisor who never

allowed her to offer solutions. White encour-

aged the employee to come up with a po-

tential solution or two when an issue arose

before bringing the problem to her attention.

In cases like that, it’s important for com-

panies to foster an environment where it’s

OK for employees to make mistakes and

be vulnerable. Kristina Johnson, chief peo-

ple officer for San Francisco-based identity

and asset management company Okta Inc.,

says if such an environment doesn’t exist,

organizational culture can be at the root

of the problem.

“Imagine an organization where leaders approach ques-

tions and concerns and mistakes with empathy and under-

standing,” Johnson says. “Then consider a workplace that’s

aggressive and blame-focused, where employees are afraid

to make mistakes and too embarrassed to ask questions.

As you can imagine, employees will stick around at one

of those organizations much longer than

the other.”

A recent Yale University study found that

people with emotionally intelligent supervi-

sors—those who are self-aware and empa-

thetic—were happier, more creative and more

innovative. On the flip side, 70 percent of the

employees whose managers were identified as

having little emotional intelligence said their

main feelings toward work were negative.

GETTING STARTED

Like technical skills, soft skills can weaken if

they go unused. That’s why it’s important to

practice them continuously.

“Developing soft skills won’t be successful

in most cases using a one-and-done approach

like a single webinar or panel discussion,”

Cannata says. “No one really develops their

technical skills that way, either.”

Instead, the soft-skills training methods

that tend to work best are “flexible, shorter

and more frequent,” Cannata says.

It’s also a good idea for companies to of-

fer a variety of learning experiences. “Some

people will do better with written training;

others are more experiential,” says Mel Hen-

nigan, vice president of people at education

software company Symplicity Corp., based

in Arlington, Va. “Whenever possible, we work with the em-

ployee to figure out the approach that works best for them.”

While most people are eager to learn, Hennigan finds that

gaps between a training program’s design and objective and

between a training delivery style and an employee’s learning

style often get in the way of a successful outcome.

Cannata recommends using a combination of larger-group

training, mentoring programs, and self-guided program-

ming such as short, on-demand videos or podcasts.

It’s critical to show employees why this training is import-

ant. That might mean drawing a direct line between improv-

ing soft skills and achieving higher pay or a promotion.

If the company doesn’t have the resources to start a soft-

skills training or development program, it should consider

partnering with a university or nonprofit that specializes

in social emotional learning, emotional intelligence or con-

scious inclusion, Cannata says.

But there are also plenty of inexpensive and less-taxing

ways to improve soft skills in the workplace.

Some methods can be as simple as challenging employees

to up their time management game by using the Pomodoro

Technique for a week. This method recommends picking a

single task or project to focus on, setting a timer for 25 to 30

minutes, and working solely on that task. When the time is

up, you take a two- or three-minute break and then get back

to work for another 25 minutes. a

The three soft skills U.S. employers

have the most trouble finding:

36% Critical thinking

36% Communication

34% Creativity

Source: Reimagining the Workforce 2021: Closing the Skills Gap

Through Education, Wiley Education Services.

S H R M . O R G / H R M A G A Z I N E
P

R
E

V
IO

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S

S
P

R
E

A
D

A
N

D
L

E
F

T
:
L
U

M
E

Z
IA

/
I
S

T
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‘You need to
be sensitive
to different

gender
perspectives

but not
hold people

to wildly
different

standards.’
DI ANN SANCHEZ

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SHRM.ORG/HRMAGAZINE

Companies can also lean on in-house talent for informal

training sessions such as lunch-and-learns. Instead of fo-

cusing on a technical skill, a session might center on time

management or active listening skills. Also leave space

throughout the day for employees to talk about what’s go-

ing well with their work and, more importantly, what’s not.

“If you want to work on improving communication and

connecting within a small team, walk through everyone’s

approach to different scenarios, like high-stress or time-sen-

sitive situations,” Johnson says.

One of White’s favorite recent activities has been holding

a weekly book group for her team. Every Friday morning,

team members meet to talk about a different chapter of the

book they’re all reading and discuss what they learned and

how they will apply those lessons at work. So far, the group

has read 13 books, including The 5 Languages of Apprecia-

tion in the Workplace (Northfield Publishing, 2012) by Gary

Chapman and Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends

and Influence People (Simon and Schuster, 2011).

“I can hands-down say that someone has gotten at least two

major useful items out of each book,” White says. “They’re

also really good team-building exercises. People look forward

to collaborating with their colleagues on Friday mornings.”

T YPES OF TRAINING

For more-involved training on soft skills,

there are formats and technologies to

meet every budget and desired outcome.

But generally, those that require reflec-

tion and interaction from employees

work best.

“If people just listen to a presentation

or an online video, they’re not really get-

ting a chance to practice the skills they

learn,” Sanchez says.

Here are some soft-skill training meth-

ods to consider:

Virtual reality. Real-world experi-

ence is a terrific teacher, but virtual re-

ality might be the next best thing. A 2020

PwC survey found that virtual reality

learners were four times more focused

than e-learners and felt 275 percent more

confident to act on what they had learned.

Some companies offer virtual reality

simulations that mirror real-world sce-

narios, such as asking employees to re-

act to a customer complaint. Hotel and

resort company Best Western attributed

a 100 percent increase in its guest sat-

isfaction and loyalty score to its virtual

reality employee training program.

Online learning. There’s no shortage

of online classes or learning programs

that target soft skills. For added benefit,

consider ones that provide dialogue simulations that allow

employees to practice the skills they’ve learned.

Coaching/mentoring. Because of the expense, coaching

is typically used at only the highest levels of leadership, San-

chez says, but companies would be smart to build employ-

ees’ leadership skills from day one—especially considering

companies with higher levels of internal hiring have 41 per-

cent longer employee tenure. One way to do that is through

mentorship programs. Leveraging the soft skills of company

leaders, whether it’s done one-on-one or in groups, is an af-

fordable and beneficial practice. Nine in 10 workers who have

a mentor say they’re satisfied with their jobs, according to a

CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey.

Interactive workshops. “Interactive, instructor-led work-

shops are the most compelling and impactful methods to

teach skills like emotional intelligence,” Johnson says. She

recommends workshops that simulate real-world scenarios

and give employees a chance to hear actionable feedback

based on their responses.

Gamification. Gamification adds a gamelike element to a

training session, which can be done in a number of ways.

Levit points to the innovative learning approach Slack uses

with its employees. The messaging app company created in-

teractive scenarios based on the Choose

Your Own Adventure children’s book series

by asking employees to pick a character,

read the person’s role and job duties, and

“then engage with a chatbot to perform

tasks and hone skills,” Levit says. “The end

result was a learning approach that allows

employees to fail or make choices in a safe

place and then evaluate and reflect on the

outcomes.” One study found that adding

a fun element like gamification boosts in-

formal learning in the workplace.

As with any kind of training, it’s import-

ant to evaluate the impact of soft-skills

training and tie it to your company’s key

metrics, such as performance review con-

versations and goal setting, Cannata says.

It’s also helpful to evaluate employees

before and after a major training session

and follow up on their performance at

the three-, six- and nine-month marks,

Sanchez says.

“Done right, this can be a huge benefit

for the company and the employee, espe-

cially for retention,” she says. “Even if the

employee doesn’t like it at the time because

it makes them uncomfortable, they can

see you’re making an investment in their

future.”

Kate Rockwood is a freelance writer

based in Chicago.

‘Interactive,
instructor-led

workshops
are the most
compelling

and impactful
methods to
teach skills

like emotional
intelligence.’

KRISTINA JOHNSON

SUMMER 2021 H R M AG A Z I N E 77

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