By H. E. James, MBA
Potential employees usually start writing their resumes by agonizing over all the skills they could bring to a position. Job descriptions often list expectations such as “mastery of Microsoft Office,” “multitasking,” or “strategic planning.”
These are hard skills that are usually tied to a specific position, such as marketing manager or strategy specialist. Not all employees in a company need to have the hard skill of strategic planning or even be able to multitask.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are those intangibles that sometimes come across on a resume rather than being explicitly stated. A marketing manager recruit can display good communication skills through a well-planned and written cover letter. The strategy specialist can show an ability to improve processes and develop new ones by their accomplishments at a previous job.
In 2017, it is reasonable to expect employees at any level to cultivate and display a number of soft skills. Here are some of the soft skills to look for and build in all employees:
Don’t expect each employee to be the next great orator or novelist. Not every email needs to be polished to within an inch of its life. Yet much of today’s talent still struggles to communicate clearly and effectively. With the advent of texting, much of the written word is being clipped to the point of intelligibility.
According to Monster.com, communication skills are top of the soft skills heap. Employees should be able to explain themselves coherently and professionally no matter their position. For employees who struggle with this soft skill, offer career development training that helps them craft emails, memos, and presentations.
Human resources departments can go one step further and create communication guidelines for the organization. These can be built around the business practices of the organization, the jargon of the industry, or a combination of both. Provide requirements and templates for presentations, memos, and even emails. You won’t be doing the work for your employees, but will be helping them improve their communication skills.
Getting an MBA like I did is not always a necessary step in career development. While it was right for me, it may not be right for everyone else. I was lucky to have a global professor whose teaching methods were similar to Penelope Adams Moon’s. He taught us more than just the economies of countries around the world. He also taught us to see the world through many different lenses as Moon does.
I had a limited perspective on the economies of BRIC countries like China and Russia before taking that global business course. It not only increased my critical thinking in subjects like economics and accounting, it increased the way I analyze my own opinions and beliefs.
Critical thinking encompasses so many of the soft skills that talent managers hire for: problem solving, process improvements, and even giving and accepting critical feedback. During the hiring process, create application questions the prompt recruits to evaluate their own work history as well as possible samples of organizational work product. For employees who need to improve their critical thinking, point them to targeted courses or online research.
Both clear communication and critical thinking tie into one of the most important soft skills: teamwork. Teamwork is valuable because so many of today’s organizations are structured around work teams. Work teams take advantage of the talents and hard skills that people bring to the workplace.
It also becomes its own teacher: an employee can have a lot of potential according to her resume but appear to work better outside a team. When placed in a team, it can become clear that she’s a great team member. It can also point to the fact that she needs help improving her teamwork.
Learning to work as a team is soft skill that requires the most practical learning. There are many activities that not only build team communication but break the ice for new team members. Some employees struggle with teamwork because they don’t know the responsibilities of everyone on the team. Shadowing can be a great way to build teamwork skills: it creates not only knowledge of the jobs of other team members but empathy for their daily work and even struggles.
There are numerous soft skills, more than could ever be listed in HR manuals or on job descriptions. Everyone will have a different level of competency with various soft skills, but these are three all recruits and employees should have.