Do You Know the 13 Soft Skills Necessary for Employee Success?
When people think of employee learning and development, their thoughts too often turn to hard skills — you know, creating pivot tables in Excel, writing sales sheets, or improving math skills. Those are important for sure. But equally important for any employee’s growth and development is continuously learning and mastering soft skills.
In fact, as far back as 2016, the World Economic Forum identified soft skills as crucial to 21st century workforces. Why? Because a workforce with a broad mix of skills is vital for organizational success today. But even among the 97% of employers who believe soft skills are essential, only 37% feel their entry-level employees possess the necessary soft skills to be fully productive today. All of this to say it’s vital for employers to help their people upskill their soft skills to drive employee and business success.
Before you can add soft skills to your L&D plan, it’s important to identify what skills we’re talking about. We believe 13 necessary soft skills are critical to employee success. In no particular order, they are:
This skill starts with the ability to understand that a problem has two essential features: a solution and an obstacle blocking that solution. Problem-solving means moving from obstacle to solution. Without the ability for clear, practical problem-solving, obstacles instead become blockers and prevent people, teams, and entire organizations from reaching goals and desired outcomes.
As a skill, problem-solving drives innovation and growth for the individual and the organization.
The American philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
Agility is the ability to learn and pivot when necessary and not become complacent. And agility — especially learning agility — is completely teachable. You can create a workplace ecosystem that relies on innovation and flexibility by giving employees tools such as accessible materials, chances to collaborate with coworkers, and the space to have their ideas heard. This way, they can learn quickly and adapt to new ideas with ease.
- Attentive Listening
Attentive listening is keenly focusing on what others are saying and being able to repeat back to them not only what they said — but what they meant. Why is this important? Collaboration and workplace harmony depend extensively on the ability of employees to not only understand what they’re being asked to do or respond to but to be able to comprehend the underlying thought behind the request, complaint, or problem.
Similar to attentive listening, empathy is the ability to see the world from another’s point of view. It allows you to understand how your actions and decisions will impact other people and helps build teams of people who are more likely to work well together. Empathy fosters respect and understanding.
Along the lines of agility, curiosity helps employees better understand the workplace environment (and also more easily lean into change management and collaboration, two other critical soft skills). Curiosity also drives people to want to learn more and apply their learning to problem-solving.
- Change Management
Change management skills are needed for leaders to keep managers and team members on board even when they feel overwhelmed. It’s the ability to authentically and clearly communicate change to team members so they welcome initiatives. Change management skills also foster collaboration (one more critical soft skill) across organizational boundaries.
Perhaps one of the most important soft skills is the ability to work as a team. This demands the use of other soft skills — empathy, attentive listening, and communication, to name a few. Collaboration allows for multiple points of view and new ways of problem-solving. Knowing the keys to collaboration is crucial for forging cooperation, being flexible to take leadership (or to step aside for someone else to lead), and building the entire organization up.
Awareness combines perception, alertness, and appreciation of those around us, of the organization, and of society as a whole. Good leadership depends on awareness and strong communication. Team members also need to be sufficiently aware to see opportunities for change. Awareness is also a facilitator for other soft skills, like leadership, communication, and time management.
Being vulnerable creates a space for you to let others into your head, and for you to see yourself as others do. Vulnerability can be facilitated by example. It offers team members insights into why things are happening a certain way and why change happens. It also offers opportunities for problem-solving. Vulnerability also helps create an environment of trust where employees feel safe to show their own vulnerable side. It makes employees more likely to be creative, take risks, and be more open to making mistakes.
When the actions of a person or organization reflect their core values, and when those core values align with their greater purpose, they’re acting with authenticity. Authentic leadership cultivates a leader’s unique life story and personality to serve multiple stakeholders — customers, employees, investors, and society in general. Authenticity in team members leads to organization-wide values in action driving purpose and meaning.
Integrity is core to dependability. It catalyzes team members to exemplify independence, pride in their work, approachability, and honesty. Integrity is the basis for teamwork, problem-solving, and collaboration — all of which in turn drive productivity and innovation.
Good communication skills include more than being able to write an email, give a speech, or compose a newsletter. Communication skills enable others to understand the information we’re offering more quickly and accurately with less frequent misunderstandings and fewer frustrations. Good communication at the organizational level leads to better strategic understanding. At the leadership level, it leads to greater cooperation. Among team members, good communication leads to clearer reasoning and collaboration.
During times of adversity, rapid change, and ambiguity, resilience helps employees bounce back and respond to challenges and problems in healthy, supportive ways. It is more about the ability to adapt and be agile than to toughen up and “just do it.” Resilience can be coached and strengthened to help organizations deal with uncertain times. An organization made up of resilient team members is better prepared for the ever-changing work world.
A diverse base of workforce skills — hard and soft — is important to organizational health and growth. Most organizations only concentrate on hard skills, perhaps assuming soft skills can’t be taught. But soft skills are now more important than ever for organizations and individuals. The changing ways we work combined with rapid growth, mergers, and continuous innovations require soft skills to adequately navigate all the ups and downs, all the twists and turns. Knowing the 13 soft skills that are necessary for employee success — and understanding why they are important — is the first step in supporting your organizational community to drive real business change.