“Soft-skills” is a term that we hear from all HR, managers and coaches. Like a revelation, articles dealing with them have invaded social networks and the media. But what do we really mean by “soft skills”? Fashion effect or real awareness? This is what we will see in this article. We will start by showing factually the growing interest in soft skills, after which we will see what is concretely meant by this term. Finally, we will conclude by analyzing their interests for the company as well as how they can be efficiently implemented within a training plan.
Before we start let's take a little time to break down this term that comes to us from across the Channel. "Soft skills" bring together all the behaviours that help everyone to open up to others, to work collaboratively and to socialize. By taking a step back we can realize that the learning of soft skills is done from birth thanks to our parents and academic institutions, which taught us how to be polite, respectful and empathetic: these are all the good manners that allow us to live in society.
Soft skills are complementary to hard skills. “Hard skills” define all technical and specialized skills, such as knowing how to weld, knowing how to program a computer, etc.
A growing interest in soft-skills
Soft skills have always been valued, but in the professional sphere, it is only recently that they have really taken hold. The research and attention paid to them have increased significantly. In fact the frequency of use of the keyword "Soft-skills" has increased 15-fold between 2012 and March 2019.
This enthusiasm is the result of a change in mentality and traditional working methods with the arrival of startups and more flexible management styles, often referred to as “Agile”. Agile methods are project management and implementation practices initially adopted in the software industry. They require more interactions between business and technical teams. These more frequent exchanges are a double-edged sword as employees from different training and background must learn to adapt their communication for the best (when the exchanges are successful and lead to a better product/project), but also for the worse when these exchanges become a dialogue with no end.
This trend is so strong that soft skills are now taking precedence over hard skills and are becoming more and more essential. According to Skill Survey statistics, 77% of employers believe that soft skills are more important than their "hard" counterparts. In addition, 67% of HR would prefer to hire an employee with strong soft skills despite weaker hard skills compared to the opposite situation. This is because hard skills are mostly only applicable in a specific area. While so-called soft skills can be applied in most professions, they are said to be “transferable” and will therefore guarantee the employee's adaptability to new situations. In particular, collaborative work, project management and critical thinking are increasingly emphasized and require flexible, assertive employees and therefore endowed with good emotional intelligence.
According to a survey conducted by Adecco Staffing USA, 44% of senior executives believe that the lack of soft skills was the biggest skills gap in the US payroll. This reflection which is almost unanimous is explained by the fact that the productivity efforts of companies have already been implemented a lot, where the axes of development such as innovation (boosted by soft skills) are still far away. to be exploited to their fullest.
The presence of soft skills" as "behavioural and managerial skills" is, therefore, a very strong trend, but concretely how can we describe them as they seem to cover a very wide and diverse range of things.
What do we actually mean by soft skills?
It would be impossible to list them all, however, we can organize them by major themes. You will find below 5 examples organised by theme using elements from The Balance Careers:
Among all these choices, are there some soft skills that are more popular than others? A study by the FIFG sought to identify which soft skills were most encouraged among French executives. The survey found that adaptability, autonomy and courtesy are the 3 most praised attitudes with 84%, 82% and 82% respectively in their favour.
Even so, this survey should be taken with hindsight as one quality is not more important than another. Much will depend on the culture of a company, its industry as well as the responsibilities of a position. Fortunately, all these behaviours can be developed and mastered, but with what objective?
What is the interest in investing in soft skills?
According to the Directorate for the Animation of Research, Studies and Statistics (DARES), more than a third of permanent contracts are terminated within one year. Of this sample, 12.7% came from non-renewed testing periods. What if the lack of soft skills was responsible? On the side of recruiters as well as candidates? Fortunately, this is not a bad thing in itself as all these skills can be developed.
Supporting employees and developing their soft skills represent an investment that many consider optional. This is a necessary element for the organic growth of any organization. Indeed it allows to:
Develop skills: In an increasingly competitive society, it is important to support your employees. We can take critical thinking as an example. Teaching employees to analyze a situation step by step in an advantage/disadvantage logic, and teaching them to make a report accessible to all is one of the keys to improving collaboration. By improving collaboration it may be possible to spark personal investment and innovation, spawning new ideas. This is a snowball effect which in turn stimulates other soft skills.
Make yourself attractive to young talents: There are many ways to learn about the quality of the work environment in a company through sites such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Indeed. Companies must therefore double their efforts to improve their visibility and reputation with candidates alongside prospects and customers. This represents an essential stake as the labour market for executives is experiencing a situation of full employment according to the INSEE (national institute of statistics and economic studies).
Retain talents: According to a study delivered by TINYpulse, employees who do not feel valued are twice as likely to change jobs. According to UDEMY, almost one in two respondents say they quit because of a bad manager. This involves poor management of feedback, for example. Finally, according to Employee Benefits News, a resignation would cost 33% of the employee's annual salary, including training and the inactivity caused. Thus the corporate culture is the key to sustainability and performance.
There are many areas for improvement on which employees can focus. Time and stress management, problem-solving, teamwork etc. These in turn improve personal investment and involvement in projects. According to a study by researchers from Harvard University, Boston and Michigan's Ross School of Business, employees chosen for a soft-skills support program are generally 12% more productive than their colleagues who have not been trained. The statistic may seem low, but it represents a return on investment of 256%.
How to make room for soft skills in the workplace?
Unlike hard skills, which are already highly developed in companies and whose knowledge is accessible online, the development of soft skills still has a lot of room for improvement and requires human support. The HR functions thus have several cards to play to boost the development of these skills, as those responsible for talent retention, manager training, and employee development. However, the implementation of a complete training program for soft skills represents a real logistical challenge and a significant cost for many structures.
At Simundia we are convinced that coaching is the most powerful tool for the development of soft skills. To make it accessible on a large scale in the company, we have developed a short coaching platform by videoconference, bringing together more than 40 independent and accredited coaches.
Ultimately, more than a fad, the importance of soft skills is a reality that is taking shape in the company in an operational manner. These skills represent a real challenge for the twenty-first century by allowing strong gains in productivity and innovation, through increased employee engagement and fulfilment.