Increased competition, changing marketplace dynamics, and economic uncertainty in the world today requires companies to continually search for innovative ways to increase their own competitiveness. Investments must be made in all areas that enable an organization to continually expand and grow. In this quest for increased competitiveness, it is often all too easy to overlook the investment in our most valuable assets: our employees. Providing employees with continued, effective training pertaining to the workplace can be one of the most significant ways to create a more engaging work environment and more knowledgeable, productive workers-and therefore, a greater return for the company.

Most organizations do an exceptional job of providing the orientation and technical training for a job. Even with all this initial training, managers still wonder why some employees do not perform effectively. Certainly, an employee needs to understand the policies and procedures to perform his or her job well, and they need to have the technical skills to perform at a high level. Unfortunately, orientation and technical training provides help as to “what” employees are to do on the job without helping employees to understand “how” they are to perform on the job. The most effective managers realize that high performing employees not only know “what” to do on the job, they also understand “how” to perform the role to deliver the most effective results.

Improving the How

An effective way to improve upon the “how” side of employee performance is to focus on improving and developing each employee’s set of soft skills. The term “soft skills” serves to represent a number of important areas in our basic way of thinking. The foundation of this set of soft skills is comprised of five core elements:

  • Self-confidence-In a world where risk, challenge, competition and change go hand-in-hand, self-confidence is indispensible. One’s ability to stretch beyond the comfort zone is critical in surviving the ups and downs of market conditions and organization dynamics.
  • Personal leadership-An effective leader inspires team members from all walks of life to a higher level of performance. This starts with their ability to inspire themselves to achieve consistently outstanding results which builds trust, credibility, and respect with others. By demonstrating flexibility, energy, and openness with others one is able to establish the foundation for effective leadership. 
  • Communication skills-The speed of business calls on professionals to think on their feet and to express ideas, thoughts and feelings effectively. Professionals must possess the ability to convey their message well in front of large groups, small groups and in one-on-one meetings. They must demonstrate effective listening and connect with others to achieve desired results. 
  • People skills-People skills are essential for professional and personal success. This success is demonstrated in one’s ability to win enthusiastic cooperation instead of compliance, turn a “no” into a “yes” and be diplomatic under pressure. It comes in building relationships that are based on trust and integrity. In comes in making, and maintaining, a positive impression with others. 
  • Attitude control-The ability to face challenging situations with a constructive attitude is often the determining factor in achieving success. Maintaining an enthusiastic and positive outlook keeps other engaged and helps one avoid the procrastination that leads to failure.

    Obviously, one does not advance far in an organization without possessing some ability in each of these five areas. The key question managers must ask themselves when developing employees is, “What if my employees were a little better in each of these areas? What seems impossible to accomplish today, but might be possible with the right increase in these core soft skills?” Even a minor improvement in these core soft skill areas can have a tremendous impact on how an employee interacts with internal and external customers, increases their sense of accountability, and enhances their overall demeanor that leads to positive business results.

    Research conducted by the TRACOM Group (Interpersonal Effectiveness: The Most Important Factor in Business Success, 2007) regarding the value of interpersonal skills development found that developing these skills allowed over 92% of participants to develop more positive relationships with customers and 87% to improve trust and confidence. For salespeople, this increased the speed of the selling process by more than 60%. For managers, it helped 27% to establish more effective relationships with direct reports, 22% to deal more effectively with conflict, and 22% to improve the commitment of their employees to the organization. In other words, it helped them create an environment with more engaged employees which Watson-Wyatt research has found helps organizations outperform their competition by 47% to 200%.

    Some managers become concerned that training their employees in soft skill areas will cause those employees to leave the organization. However, the greater concern should be, “What if we don’t train employees in these areas and they stay?” A great deal of potential is wasted on employees who are simply not trained to perform at their maximum level. The quickest and easiest way to prevent such a problem is to provide employees with the training and tools necessary to help them be an integral part of the work environment.