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The Case for Great Soft Skills Training

In a recent Robert Half International Survey which was taken by more than 2,300 professionals worldwide, 73% of participants thought training was the number one way to increase workplace retention.

Soft Is Actually Hard
In the same respect we’ve recently come across these numbers as they relate to soft skills in the workplace. We tend to define soft skills as the presence of interpersonal and emotional intelligence within your employees and their ability to manage him or herself and relate to other people well:

• Research shows that 60-80% of all difficulties in an organization stem from strained relationships among employees.
• The typical manager spends 25-40% of his/her day dealing with workplace conflict
• 85% of dismissals in the US are due to personality conflicts.
• A study of 500 organizations worldwide indicated that people who score highest on EQ measures rise to the top of corporations. Among other things, these “star employees” possess more interpersonal skills and confidence than “regular employees.”
• A study of 1,171 U.S. Air Force recruiters showed that the best performing recruiters were those who scored high on assertiveness, empathy, interpersonal relations, problem solving and optimism.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and former New York Times reporter, first published the international best-seller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (Bantam Books, 1995). In it, he brought together years of research to show that emotional intelligence matters twice as much as IQ or technical skills in job success. In his follow-up book, Working with Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Books, 1998), he revealed data that proved factors such as self-confidence, self-awareness, self-control, commitment and integrity not only create more successful employees but also more successful companies.

We can conclude that soft skills are needed in our workforce as much, if not more than technical skills. However, the concern for every organization is that most people don’t come with all the soft skills required to be great managers. This is the idea that although you were the best at making widgets for the past year, once you got promoted to being a manager, it no longer was your only goal to make great widgets. Now you need to manage people, relationships, work processes, strategic initiatives, and the politics of the office. This rang true for one technology giant as they wanted to discover what made their best managers so great – and how they might be able to duplicate the best attributes of those managers.

Google’s Project Oxygen
It was determined that soft skills were so important to the future of Google that they set out to reinvent their workplace managers by launching Project Oxygen in 2009. Project Oxygen looked to take the data-crunching muscle of Google and help the company understand what makes the best bosses and managers. Google began analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys, nominations for top manager award and other soft skill indicators. The Google statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers across 100 variables, dissected 400 pages of interview notes, and then spent time coding, analyzing and synthesizing the data. What came of the project? The next year Google launched, “The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.”

But how to make that better manager? As one senior leader in Google said, “most companies are better at exhorting you to be a great manager, rather than telling you how to be a great manager.” Google structured their training programs, performance reviews and orientation process around the eight defining factors that made up their best managers. They understood that it wasn’t just about telling their managers to be great and “here is the list.” They needed to educate their workforce, giving them the competency to be the best.

The Case for a Great Training Provider
Here’s the rub (at least from my perspective as a training provider). One, we’re can’t all be Google with an endless supply of money to try new things out. Second, in the soft skills training world there are good trainers and there are bad trainers. What’s more, there are companies that understand the cost of a good trainer versus other companies that don’t. Those other companies have a tendency to define training as an added cost, an expense, something they need to cross off on their list of to dos . In doing so they go with the path of ‘least learning.’ If it’s cheaper, still puts a warm body in a room with a flip chart, it must be satisfactory. Right?

Equally, a bad trainer can sour the mood of the Training and Learning Department and in turn sour the mood for other training providers. One bad trainer and no return on learning and now “all training is useless and soft skills training is especially a scam.”

In this economy it’s tough to decide to go with more expensive training organization when every fiber in an organization’s being is to cut cost, reduce deficit, or go with the cheaper service. But, training must be viewed as an investment – a long term plan to create a superior workforce and as with any other investment the more you put into the more you get out of it.

In American Society for Training and Development’s annual State of the [Training] Industry Report, the best organizations delivered more training (24 hours more/employee) than the consolidated average. Furthermore, about 70 percent of all training was delivered by an instructor in a classroom, up 3 percent from 2009. We should be asking our learning and development team: what is the Return on Training (ROT) that we’re seeing with our training programs? Are we offering “off the shelf,” canned trainings with little to no results? Are we the organization that provides the 30-people-crammed-in-one-conference-room webinars to meet the monthly training quota? An interesting side note here, technology-based delivery of instruction declined from 36.3 percent in 2009 to 29.1 percent in 2010. Perhaps organizations are finally realizing that technology will never replace the effectiveness of a highly qualified, engaging, in-person trainer (remember the earlier statistic that classroom-led training increased). At the end of the day we’re human and we crave the intimate and social interaction with other humans, especially when we’re trying to master hard skills.

Return on Training
Yes, a little bit of tough love this week, but for good reason. How are you measuring your training program? Better yet, how are you measuring the vendor providing your training? Look at these recent numbers of companies that took a strategic (long-term) approach to training and development:
– 40% lower turnover
– 2x the revenue per employee
– 38% higher engagement
– Every $1 invested in employees yielded $10 in profit
*2012 Sage ROEI

Organizations – if you want a superior workforce, a higher employee retention rate, higher levels of engagement and an increase in productivity (which we all hear you clamoring for) – you know the roadmap to get there is through quality training, you’ve seen the data that supports that philosophy, and I’m confident that you understand that training is an investment worth making for a long term, strategic path for your organization. With that being said it really boils down to how much skin are you willing to put into your training and development program?

Take a look at our Training and Development Viewbook for other resources and insight on how we could build a custom-designed training and develop road map for your organization.


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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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