Soft skills need analysis

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Leading off our month of behavioural skills is this piece from Paul Russell, proving that you can put some metrics in place.

Soft skills, the oft-maligned gentler cousin of technical skills is emerging from the wings to take their rightful place on centre stage. The business advantages of soft skills in the workplace are now widely asserted; the difference between adequate and outstanding performance, the contributor to the majority of professional success, the key to successful application of technical skills and knowledge. Add to this the understanding that people can hone their soft skills through training rather than acquiescing to their inbuilt allotment, and it is easy to see why employees and employers alike are clamouring for a front row seat to soft skills’ performance. So now to the thorny issue - who gets the coveted seats? Perhaps it comes down to who is most in need. But how exactly do we ascertain these needs and what should we be looking for? 

Soft skills are less tangible than technical or hard skills, making them more difficult to quantify or measure; it is the difference between measuring a person’s leadership, team working skills or confidence versus their ability to use a specific computer package or create a PowerPoint presentation. There is a misconception that soft skills are only people skills, however, it is suggested that there are four categories. The first category is leadership, which includes people and relationship proficiencies, relating to the ability to work in a team, negotiate and resolve conflict. Second, communication skills like making presentations and listening to others (and of course communication is both verbal and non-verbal). Management and organisational skills is the third category, which includes organising people, resolving problems and monitoring progress, and the final category, cognitive skills and knowledge, enables the bearer to solve problems in the workplace, make sound decisions and think creatively. 

Here are four methods to analyse soft skills

  • Manager assessment: Perhaps the most obvious means of analysing an employee’s people, personality, behavioural or interpersonal skills is to ask their manager to identify training needs. After all, they interact with their direct report regularly and should be well placed to notice areas for development. A note of caution here though, managers are unlikely to note training needs unless their report is struggling in a particular area; in other words, failure will be noted, but opportunities for improvement are less likely to be.
  • Self-assessment: A variety of questionnaires and self-completion methods are available to assess soft skills, asking respondents to answer questions such as: To what extent do you agree with the following statement: ‘I am a good leader’ with a Likert scale response, typically 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree'. Situational judgement tests giving respondents a scenario with three or four possible answers are another option. Drawbacks? A reliance on employee self-awareness.
  • One-to-one interview: Hypothetical questioning, undertaken by someone other than the line manager would ask the interviewee to give examples of when they were, for example, a strong leader. A disadvantage of this method is its reliance on the employee being honest and in their ability to recall situations in which they have shown the soft skill in question. A second drawback is that the results will be subjective, and will also depend upon the interviewer's own soft skills.
  • Assess against firm competencies: Developing company- or job-based competencies, focusing on traits, behaviours and person-based skills, helps employees understand what is expected, and assists managers in analyses of the same.

We have reviewed both the scope of soft skills and four methods of analysing them. It is likely that no one technique would be used in isolation; manager assessment using firm competencies alongside self-assessment perhaps or one-to-one interviews following self-assessment, and of course there may be other methods that would be particularly suited to certain job roles, observation for example. So now, as soft skills makes its confident way to the stage to deliver an assured presentation, leading a strong team and resolving conflicts on the way, perhaps there are a few people who would benefit from joining them?

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of The Luxury Academy, a multi-national private training company with offices in London and New Delhi. Paul was educated at the University of London and holds a degree in Behavioural Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Workplace Psychology. He is currently studying for his Doctorate and hopes to achieve this in 2015

About Paul Russell

Paul Russell, Luxury Academy

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, For more info visit www.luxuryacademy.co.uk.

Luxury Academy is a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.

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