Want employees' soft skills to shine? Do these 4 things

Leaders are often reminded “what’s inspected gets done.” While this adage is typically applied to measurable task-related behaviors such as productions goals, it’s also relevant for human elements of the workplace like interpersonal skills.

As artificial intelligence makes further inroads into your daily work as a leader, you need to pay attention to soft-skill development because these uniquely human skills are what will differentiate your team members from the bots.

It’s time to elevate soft skills to a topic worthy of frequent leadership inspection. If we are to successfully co-exist with increasingly sophisticated technology, we need to amp up our humanity.

As this Fast Company article suggests, one way to do this is to reward soft skills in the workplace. And by “reward,” I don’t mean “pay.” I mean, put emphasis on the value of conducting business in a respectful, human way.

Here are four ways to develop your team’s soft skills on the job and with minimal financial investment.

Set the stage

As the team leader, it’s your job to ensure team members have ample opportunity to practice job-related and human skill sets. This starts by you giving them context for the importance of developing their whole selves. Help your team members understand that developing their people skills is part of their path to internal career mobility. Explain that employers are looking for both technical and human skills, and that your role as a leader is to pay attention to how they’re progressing on both fronts.

Put soft skills front and center

Celebrate “wins” that highlight people skills. At meetings and team huddles, give equal praise for how something was done as well as what was achieved. “Let’s take a moment to recognize Isabella. She expedited the Acme Company customer order, which helped us keep our 100% on-time metric; she was tenacious and customer-focused without throwing the shipping department under the bus, which would have been easy to do, given the circumstances.”

See the opportunity in challenge

Setbacks provide excellent opportunities to flex soft-skill muscles. Whether it’s a project that crashed and burned or a brewing team conflict, leaders who coach employees through the speed bumps of organizational life are helping team members build a portfolio of critical soft skills: conflict resolution, negotiation, adaptability and creativity. When the whining and complaining ensues (and believe me, it will), stay resolute. Say, “Yes, this is a pain. And we will work together to get to the other side of it.”

Get clear about what good people skills look like

It’s fine to keep it low-key and casually do the fist bump and “Nice job!” thing with team members. But every so often, you need to go deeper and give detailed feedback. Highlight specific things your employees said or did that demonstrate their strength in soft skills. For example, say, “Jody, I know that you’ve been frustrated with the new purchasing software. I admire how you kept your cool at the status meeting and stayed focused on finding a solution, rather than getting into the weeds about the bugs in the system.”

Paying attention to stuff -- whether it’s the latest app upgrade or a team member’s need to learn tact -- ensures it gets done. The modern workplace demands that your employees have top-notch soft skills. Help your team members shine by developing their human skills in equal measure with their technical skills.

 

Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Read more about leadership and AI on her blog The People Equation from the post, "7 Reasons Leaders Should Focus on Developing Employee Soft Skills."

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