Soft Skills Training: Band-Aid or Investment?

If people lack communication skills, job knowledge doesn’t matter

Take a look at any job posting, past, present or future and you will see the standard line of “good oral and written communication skills” included in the requirements. Unfortunately, in typical job interviews, it’s near impossible to accurately assess whether the candidate has good communication skills or not.

While HR could include communication skills in the hiring process, there are already the tasks of advertising accurate and thorough job postings, sifting through piles of candidates and interviewing the short list. Hiring managers and HR must then follow this up with the assessment of answers and testing of job knowledge. Communication is seldom part of the mix.

Certainly writing samples can be requested and the interview process gives an indication of oral communication, but let’s face it, everyone in an interview is on their best behaviour. Candidates are unlikely to show obvious signs of poor communication skills.

Most often, the hiring process focuses on job skills and experience; elements like personality and critical thinking may come into it, but without solid communication skills, none of this matters. Within the basic hiring process, the odds of picking great employees are terrible and even good is unlikely.

On the flip side, the pressure – when it comes to hiring – is endless. With the demand for good (even decent) people at an all-time high, it’s understandable how adding a thorough assessment of communication skills in the hiring process feels unreasonable, but the omission comes with consequences. Conflict, drama and absenteeism are in the cards when communication skills are lacking – it’s an essential skill.

Companies plunk new hires into their positions with the usual onboarding steps. It is assumed these people will use those “good oral and written communication skills”, but companies are willing to roll the dice, rely completely on luck and hope the employee works out, fits in and lives up to expectations.

When luck is the strategy, HR finds themselves busy with the fall out. This includes dealing with everything from mediating communication problems , handing out disciplines and issuing suspensions. It’s how companies use HR to avoid wrongful dismissals when they did not do due diligence in checking communication skills. There are even dedicated areas in HR departments to manage these types of employees and delicate situations.

When too many poor communicators are present within a company, look out. Conflict becomes an issue and turnover skyrockets, compelling companies to fix their communication and personnel problems. There is a timeliness to this issue, because something needs to change before the bad communicators progress in their behaviours, cross the lines and become contributors to legal problems like harassment, bullying or discrimination. And yes, there is another department in HR to handle these bigger issues!

Although communication skills was a job requirement and allegedly assessed, communication problems are now evident. So what’s next? The company will call in an outside consultant (someone like me) to do crisis work with the problem individuals to stop the issues and any potential escalation. There are two ways to tackle this:

  1. Band-Aid – one topic, one-off training
    A big problem or problem person receives a single workshop
  2. Investment – layered topic creation, on-going training
    Problem identification, defined outcomes and multiple workshops

The majority of companies go with option #1, because it’s cheaper to pay for one workshop. It also holds the promise of a fix for those they have hired who they still believe have “good oral and written communication skills”, plus this will facilitate  people  with getting along. The belief is  the single training will work as “shock therapy” to get the bad communicator(s) back on track. Better communications and interactions should certainly happen after a crisis-induced training session or workshop.

Certainly, there can be value in one-off crisis training. When a reactive strategy like this is implemented, change should be evident but it probably will be short term. People are creatures of habit and the motivation for change is not coming from within themselves, therefore, after a few days or weeks they will forget their workshop learning and revert back to their usual habits of poor communication which may lead to inappropriate behaviour.

It is only when new learning is consistent, created from layers of topics and skills, session after session, that change can be entrenched and long lasting. With regularly scheduled workshops, employees anticipate the session, prepare to learn new skills (not under duress or because of disciplinary consequences or threats) and have time between sessions to hone the skills through situational relevance. When companies make the investment in long-term training, it creates great employees who stay longer because they feel valued.

When your company is ready to switch from a Band-Aid to an investment, start with the basics. These three topics are key to building essential employee skills for success:

Intelligence Quotient (IQ):
Build every employee up with leadership smarts like how to lead and inspire; supervise people and tasks; be agile and handle conflict; and manage difficult situations

Emotional Quotient (EQ):
Increase the self-management smarts needed to work with others by improving listening skills and message creation; learning empathy and compassion; and increasing decision-making ability

Adaptability Quotient (AQ):
Improve people’s ability to manage stress and change by teaching stress management skills; building up resiliency; and opening minds to be flexible and adaptable

When these three topic areas (with clear and learnable skill sets) are part of the training package, they equip employees to communicate well and conduct themselves professionally. Soft skills is usually the term used to describe them but there is nothing soft about communication and conduct.

No company should be willing to leave communication skills to chance. They need to be taught so people can learn them, improve them, practice them and form them into new habits. This is essential because communication skills are required to work with other people, whether they are customers, clients, co-workers, supervisors or teams. While vocational skills are important, communication is the trump card.

An ultimate goal would be for all people in an organization to be genuine, authentic and consistent in their communication and behaviour. To work towards this goal, employees need communication skills to be instilled through the awareness and application of IQ, EQ and AQ and in training sessions consistently focused on ongoing skill building. It can be tempting to allocate dollars to each employee with the invitation and hope they “go get smart”. Instead, show the importance of good communication and behaviour to your staff by regularly training them in-house to show them they are valued and that “we want to build you into a great employee”.

If you read this article and realized your company operates on the Band-aid strategy, now is the time to make the shift to the investment strategy. You won’t need chance or luck to ensure great employees. Contact us at 604-349-8660 or pam@thepossibilities.ca to start a workplace assessment and develop a training program with great goals, outcomes and timing.

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