Soft or Hard Skills?

This topic brings back flashes (mostly traumatic) of conversations with many managers over the years of why it was important to not just focus on one. Lets start with the basics:

What Soft & Hard Skills Are

Skills that involve emotional intelligence are often referred to as ‘soft’ – this could be anything from having performance management training, customer service or understanding the vision and mission of your organisation. Skills that involve technical competencies are then referred to as ‘hard’ – these are skills like how to operate machinery, use the intranet or meet health and safety compliance training needs.

To put it simply, both of these sets of skills are crucial for a functioning business; ‘hard’ skills because you need people who are technically capable of doing the job they were hired to do, and ‘soft’ skills because to have a effective business you need to have some form of structure and have people that are able to manage others.

Do Operations Focus on Hard Skills Too Much?

I often see organisations who promote really incredible operational/technical people into management because that is, in many instances, the only way to ‘move someone up’ the career ladder/reward them for hard work. We think: if Jared is great at his job and the team looks up to him why wouldn’t we promote him?

Well there a few reasons why
– Has Jared received any management training?
– Does Jared realise that a large part of any management role is looking after and developing their team rather than doing the specialist work themselves?
– How will Jared cope with becoming ‘the boss’ to people that were his peers?
– What development has Jared received in thinking about where he would like his career to go? Is this something he wants to do?

Now – I’m not saying don’t promote Jared. He may become an incredible manager. But often Jared is promoted and the soft skills, the skills that enable him to become a great manager, develop his people (and you know, avoid potential employment lawsuits) are undervalued.

This is why HR often seem to be ‘pushing’ soft skills training on the business. Its not because hard skills aren’t important, its because most operational managers often already spend a great deal of time in that area, sometimes leaving the ‘soft’/people skill development in their team underdeveloped.

So What To Do?

– What can you get for your budget? This will be dependant on things like if you are in a city where there are a lot of competing training providers, whether the training topic is expensive (the more specialist a skill is usually the more is charged by training providers), does the training have to be certified etc.
– Do you have access to internal trainers? These might not be fulltime trainers – they might just be staff who have a lot of experience with the topic
– Is formal training really the answer? Sometimes we go straight for formal training when there are lots of other ways we could address an issue: coaching with other staff, utilising free resources from the internet (check out for info on the 70:20:10 model), having a ‘Lunch & Learn’ (where you have an informal training/experience sharing session with a provided lunch) etc. 

There is no easy answer here – both hard and soft skills are important, although I would argue that both are equally important to your bottom line. Consider conducting a TNA (training needs analysis) to prioritise your teams needs, and remember that not everything requires plonking someone in a training course – informal coaching can make a world of difference. 

Social Media & Learning

Rethinking Your Assumptions about Social Media & Learning

Does your organisation have a Social Media Policy? A Technology Policy? A BYOD (bring your own device) Policy? A Policy for Creating Policies Policy?

While (as someone who has worked in People & Culture for quite a while and is a bit of a Type A) I appreciate the value of a good policy which helps manage a business need, I think we have a tendency to sometimes get carried away with policies and use them in a reactive, rather than a productive manner.

An excellent example of this is having a Social Media Policy – so many organisations implement these in fear of social media and what employees may say about them online, they forget that anything that an employee says about them in a public forum (like in a town meeting, or on an open Facebook page) can be covered by the Code of Conduct. Why do we insist of having a separate rule book to outlaw/overly police social media?

More often than not it is because the decision makers are scared of what they don’t understand.

Unfortunately this has a negative impact on productive learning within organisations when one of the best tools is treated like it ran over the sheriff’s dog intentionally. Social media isn’t the enemy! It can be a wonderful way to (freely) encourage people to champion their own learning, to build networks, to find resources, to stay up to date in their field. Yes you have to manage its use; you don’t want everyone playing Farmville during work-time. But if you do it right, self-directed learning is such a great way to motivate your staff (and don’t think this is just a Millennial thing, everyone can get involved).

Just a few examples of where I’ve seen this work spectacularly;

– organisations running Facebook ‘Private Closed Groups’ as a way to give a positive ‘shout out’ to fellow staff members and engage in a professional forum – incidental learning and connections can be made within the organisation to promote self-development and informal coaching

– organisations encouraging employees to use professional networking tools such as LinkedIn (or the soon to be released Facebook equivalent) to generate leads, engage with stakeholders and join professional LinkedIn Groups to stay up to date on specific sector knowledge

– professionals using Twitter as both a networking tool and as a way to find out about the latest developments in their field.

Don’t be scared!

Encouraging your employees to network, widen their horizons and stay up to date with professional advances isn’t nearly as scary as losing them and their skills to a competitor who trusts them in managing their own learning. If you put a good framework in place, encourage sensible usage and get your organisation’s leaders on board with making the most of these tools then the returns you receive will far outweigh the effort  put in.

Thinking differently

Thinking about learning in organisations differently

So you’re in Learning & Development, or training, or Training and Development, or you are a proactive manager, business owner or a consultant… in fact, you could be just about anybody because that is who there are benefits for in understanding and taking control of you and your team’s learning in the workplace.

If you want to move away from ‘tick and flick’ learning and drive ROI (and ROE – Return on Expectation – as the knowledgeable Con Sotidis @LearnKotch puts it) then you need to start thinking about learning as an organic, ongoing, personal process that can help organisations get more out of their people (and have happier people).

Organisations that take a holistic approach not only get the feel-good-vibes associated with actually caring about their people, but they also have more committed, happier, more productive employees than other organisations. Increasing your organisation’s feel-good-vibes (and you know, that important thing that’s called your Employer Value Proposition) shouldn’t be the only thing that convinces you of this though, how about the fact that:

  • 40% of employees who receive poor job training leave their positions within the first year, that costs big bucks 1
  • Organisations in the USA that invest in learning outperform the market by more than 45% – 45%!!!!! 2
  • Your competitors are doing it – businesses increased training budgets by an average of 15% in 2013 3

Ok, so I make a pretty good case – but what does this mean for you?  

I’m all about evidence-backed change. There is no point jumping on the latest bandwagon in the interests of being seen to be doing the in thing, if that in thing doesn’t bloody work! A pet hate of mine is the overuse of the concept of ‘learning styles’ – yes learning should be enjoyable but I’ve yet to see any convincing research proving that learners playing with play-doh or throwing squishee balls at each other during a face-to-face training sessions helps ANYBODY!

Well it doesn’t have to equal a whole lot of effort. Advances in technology and the way people are using it mean that more and more there are cheap (and often free) solutions to problems that are pretty consistent across most organisations. What it does mean is that you and the decision makers that you work with, may have to readjust some assumptions you hold about learning in the workplace and how it happens.