5 Ways L&D Can Help Managers Drive Soft Skills Training
More than 9 in 10 executives rate soft skills as important as technical skills, and 89% report difficulty finding talent with those capabilities (also known as people skills, social skills, and non-technical skills). Build-or-buy talent decisions are shifting to build-and-buy imperatives, underscoring the important role managers play in identifying soft skills deficits and ensuring employees get the training they need. Using the examples, tips, and tools that follow, learning and development (L&D) can help equip managers for success.
An all-too-familiar story…
After three years on the job in a high-tech firm, Brian has consistently earned praise and salary bumps for his outstanding technical skills. His work has contributed to new product designs and helped refine existing offerings to enhance appeal and ease-of-use for customers.
Now, Brian is eager to take the next step up his career ladder by moving into a team leader position. But his applications for two openings in the last three months have gone nowhere. His excitement at landing interviews twice turned to disappointment when he saw the promotions awarded to others.
Tech Skills Aren’t Enough
When Brian asked a colleague what he thought the problem might be, Greg replied, “Brian, you’re great when it comes to tech know-how, but what do you know about leading a team? Remember when you were supposed to head that mobile processor project? You were so nervous every time you had to get up and talk—and there were just four of us. You couldn’t organize or delegate the work. Sorry, buddy, but I’m pretty sure those skills you lack are what’s holding you back. Why don’t you talk to Kate?”
In fact, Brian had spoken with department head Kate. “I talked to her when I applied for the jobs,” Brian admitted to Greg. “She pretty much told me the same thing. She even said I should get some training. But I don’t know what kind, and she really didn’t say. There must be a hundred classes listed on our learning platform. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I thought my tech skills would be enough to get me promoted. Guess not.”
Brian found out the hard way that even in a business world where science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) capabilities are highly valued, tech prowess is only part of the picture. Success in today’s (and tomorrow’s) organizations calls for employees—and leaders—to be equally adept at wielding soft skills, the varied competencies needed to relate to and work effectively with others. Written and verbal communication, collaboration, interpersonal skills, project leadership, and emotional intelligence are a few examples.
A Critical Link in Successful Learning
Beyond his assumption about advancing solely on the strength of his tech skills, two key things have gone wrong for Brian, leaving him feeling confused and stuck in his current job.
- Although he now knows he needs training, he has no idea where to begin or what specific kinds of training would be most helpful.
- Manager Kate recognizes that training is needed if Brian is to advance in his career. However, she has missed her opportunity to play a pivotal role because she didn’t have the information she needed to be of real help to him.
Providing managers like Kate the resources they need to help employees is a critical link in successful learning and development.
Major 2018 research by LinkedIn reported that manager direction is the top factor motivating employee learning, and that workers say they’d spend more time learning if managers recommended it.
For their part, managers said their willingness to encourage more development hinged on two factors: how easy it was for them to do so and training’s positive effects on employee career growth. LinkedIn suggests the obvious strategy for L&D: “Offer solutions that help managers easily recommend learning to their teams.”
A Tool to Help Managers Get Started
As his manager, Kate is likely to have credibility in Brian’s eyes, but only if she knows how to recommend effective training. She’s let him down once, but it’s not too late. Kate’s a capable leader and knows she can turn this problem situation around in just a few steps. On the advice of her colleague Lisa in L&D, Kate’s begun by downloading a free tool to make her task easier: The Soft Skills Quick Reference Tool for Managers from Media Partners.
Kate’s three-step plan:
- Step 1: Because there are many soft skills, Kate first needs to identify the specific ones Brian must work on. Using her Soft Skills Quick Reference Tool for Managers, Kate has at her fingertips a list of the most in-demand soft skills along with some simple behaviors that signal when training may be needed. Identifying Brian’s skill needs just got easier.
- Step 2: Having pinpointed the skills he needs to learn, Kate can have a conversation with Brian and work with him to create a development plan that specifies his career goals and the capabilities he’ll work on to qualify for advancement.
- Step 3: Finally, Kate will reconnect with Lisa in L&D, letting her know the skills needs she’s identified for Brian. Lisa is an experienced training professional, and it’s her job to select just the right training to engage Brian and help him build and practice the soft skills he needs to fuel his career growth. If she needs a hand, Lisa will call on the learning specialists at Media Partners for top-quality soft skills training programs.
Note: Lisa also recognized that Kate, like many managers, needed some help with her own soft skills. So she encouraged Kate to schedule a few development sessions for herself, after mapping out her strategy for helping Brian. Lisa explained to Kate that when soft skills aren’t modeled by leaders, employees have a harder time committing to those behaviors.
5 Ways L&D Can Help Managers Drive Soft Skills Training
Making it easier to recommend training—as Lisa’s recommendation of the Soft Skills Quick Reference Tool did for Kate—is one of a handful of actions learning and development professionals can take to help managers drive soft skills training and become more powerful catalysts for effective employee development.
Try these strategies in your organization:
- Introduce managers to soft skills. L&D can offer lunch-and-learn sessions, short presentations in meetings, video training, microlearning assets, and other quick interventions to orient managers to soft skills–what they are, why they matter to individuals and organizations, and what soft skills look like in practice.
- Show managers what’s in it for them. Developing talent is a core expectation of people leaders at all levels. Recognizing when employees need help with soft skills and knowledgeably acting to make that development happen are competencies every manager needs to succeed in their own jobs. L&D professionals are the ideal internal consultants to help managers achieve those expectations and drive their teams’ soft skills development. That consultant role also positions L&D to recognize and intervene when managers exhibit soft skills deficits of their own.
- Make it easy for managers to recommend training. Tools like Media Partners’ Soft Skills Quick Reference Tool for Managers provide point-of-need support when managers want to identify soft skills deficits in their employees. L&D professionals who download the tool and share it with all people managers make it easy for those leaders to recognize training needs and make specific skill-building recommendations for each of their team members.
- Turn managers (and other leaders) into soft skills teachers. Learning professionals know the power of leaders-as-teachers programs. When employees see their managers and executives modeling soft skills, when managers regularly talk about those capabilities, and when they lead training sessions, employees receive strong messages about the importance of soft skills in the workplace. Savvy L&D practitioners recruit leaders at all organizational levels to demonstrate their own capabilities and teach others about soft skills.
- Showcase managers’ successes in driving soft skills training. When it comes to communicating the importance of learning and the vital role of managers, L&D practitioners understand the value of visibility. Leverage internal communication channels to provide ongoing education about soft skills and share success stories—feature managers who excel at developing talent and employees whose mastery of new soft skills resulted in career and personal growth.
L&D professionals and managers can download the free Soft Skills Quick Reference Tool for Managers from Media Partners, the award-winning producer of engaging, behavior-changing soft skills video training. For a complete introduction to the importance of soft skills in the workplace today (and in the future), get your complimentary Media Partners’ eBook The Sad State of Soft Skills and How L&D Can Fix It.
Thanks to the support she received from Lisa, Kate arranged for Brian to receive soft skills training in team leadership, communication, and project management. She helped him practice his new skills, giving him another chance at heading a product development project. Just six months later, Brian achieved his goal of promotion to team leader. When he told Kate the news, she offered her congratulations—and presented Brian with his own copy of the Soft Skills Quick Reference Tool for Managers.