According to LinkedIn data, 57% of senior leaders feel soft skills are more important than hard skills. Interviewing candidates on hard skills is easy, whereas interviewing on soft skills takes questions where the candidate gives examples of how they applied such soft skill. Hard skills are fairly simple to train a newly-hired candidate. They are skills that are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify. A trainer sits down and shows the new employee how to navigate the technology platforms such as the property management system, company website, lead management system, phone system, etc. The new employee then navigates the systems as the trainer watches and assists when they get hung up on the next step. Sometimes there are short quizzes at the end of the day to test their knowledge on the hard skills, as well as documents for the employees to reference during their first few months until system navigation becomes second nature. I recommend training on the hard skills first, so the new employees feel confident in their day to day routines, then introduce soft skills. Soft skills are known as “people skills” or “interpersonal skills.”
For 2019, the most desirable soft skills for employees according to LinkedIn are creativity, persuasion and collaboration. It is said that creativity assists in conceiving solutions. We know solution-based thinking is always valued in any company. Persuasion is another and speaks to sales skills with getting people excited about the product of focus. I am a fan of relationship building skills focused on empathy, compassion, personally connecting, and drawing a visual picture to emotionally connect the experience. I have found the best way to build these skills is to dig deep into their meanings, sounds and how to communicate them. I have found reading articles or watching videos as a base to assist with such skills is helpful. Listening to company sales and guest service call recordings and viewing email and text communication shows when these skills are being practiced and when there is opportunity to communicate them in a way where the guest feels understood, supported and excited.
One of the most challenging soft skills I have found to coach on is empathy. Some data says you are born with it or you are not. We know that the prefrontal cortex in the brain houses the ability to have empathy and that can be compromised in many ways, such as head injuries, many years of drug and alcohol addition, lead poisoning, incarceration, etc. With that said I have watched an employee develop empathy over a two-year process with consistent coaching as well as breaking down personal barriers and experiencing a very difficult life experience. After all, how do we know how to empathize if we have never experienced pain and grief? These soft skills do not appear overnight, they take time and patience to develop. I also recommend not mixing the soft skills coaching with hard skills or human resources topics. Soft skills take real focus and processing. When they are mixed with other areas, the content can get lost and not be as effective.
Collaboration and adaptability are other sought-after soft skills. We need to be able to pull from others’ strengths and not assume we have all the answers. This plays into team work and respecting the knowledge that others have that we may not. Adaptability compliments collaboration. Our world is constantly changing with the amount of technology we rely on and upgrades of such. We don’t do things the same any longer and to keep up in business we have to adapt and be open to change. After all, if we aren’t uncomfortable, we aren’t growing.
Finally, I will discuss the skills of time management . I have yet to coach a leader who hasn’t asked for tools on this subject. The industry of hospitality fosters a heavy work load, and the new day and age of quick responses is at an all-time high. I watch people suffer with anxiety from such pressure, and I find myself talking a good amount about being in the moment to relieve the anxiety and to be present with one’s self, as well as relationships. It is up to us to manage our time so we don’t find ourselves spinning because we can’t live up to the quick-response world. We need to create healthy boundaries so we can be present with our relationships.
Out of 25 hard skills that companies are looking for the most, a few of my favorites most applicable to the hospitality industry include people management - the idea of coaching and empowering instead of “command-and-control,” sales leadership, which shows to be more challenging to find these days, and customer service systems. One unsavory tweet can ruin your business, so how will you keep your company on top of service levels? These three areas speak to understanding trust-building both internally and externally, and how our world is very different from when we were being groomed in business 20+ years ago.
Training Industry.com pointed out in January of 2019 that, “not only does soft skills training help when it comes to succession planning, but it also improves motivation across the entire organization and creates a more harmonized, cooperative working environment.” They recommend focusing on the following topics: communication skills, leadership skills, time management, team-working, problem-solving and change management. It is beneficial to offer such training to every employee in the company.
There are different types of situational learning to assist with growing soft skills. One is having a mentor in the company. The mentor can help guide and support the new employee until they feel confident in the specific skill. This also helps build skills with negotiating time availability and commitment for each person involved, as well as the overall feeling of support in a new working environment. Other companies offer apprenticeships relying on mentors and good teachers. It assists with internal company dynamics of working with peers who are open to learning interpersonal skills.
Another great team-building way to assist with soft skills is by offering group activities. This can look like a leadership development program where you bring in blended learning with classroom topics, reading and homework followed by ongoing group activity assignments. Each leader can present to the group and receive an evaluation by peers and instructors. Peer evaluation can speak to developing transparency as well as vulnerability in an organization. Bringing in the different situational learning will help make soft skills feel easy to learn and not so challenging as some may perceive.
“They aren’t called soft skills, they are called courage building skills.” – Brene Brown