When Atlanta city government was recently crippled by a cyber-attack, they temporarily reverted to paper-based systems to keep things running. In a press conference, the city’s mayor said that the experience would provide a good lesson in penmanship for younger employees. This sounds funny on the surface, but it points to a serious issue for businesses.
Penmanship is considered a soft skill that has fallen by the wayside in the digital age, but it’s hardly the only skill that’s in danger. A general increase in technical savvy is vital, but it does not replace certain basic skills that businesses still need. If you can’t find job applicants already replete with these skills, you may have to teach them. Here’s some information that will help you get started.
So, Exactly What are Soft Skills?
Between the Internet and smart phones, customers can get in touch 24/7. But, being engulfed in texts, social media and countless computerized gadgets, today’s youth never fully developed the ability to communicate verbally, value politeness, do basic math or otherwise figure things out without technical assistance.
These are examples of soft skills. Back in my day, my parents drummed these things into my head. These days, however, many parents focus more on their children’s technical acuity. If business owners want employees to have decent soft skills, they often need to do the drumming — before employees make serious errors or alienate valued customers.
How Do You Teach Things That Employees Should Know Already?
Let’s look at five commonly-lost soft skills. You may not be a teacher, but there are ways that you can help employees to gain these important abilities.
#1. Written Communication
Thanks to everything from text messaging to Twitter, every character counts. It’s not easy to help someone develop more traditional writing skills, but if you clearly communicate how writing affects the job and take corrective action, it can be done as follows:
- Arm them with reference tools. Word processing programs have spell- and grammar-checkers, and company policy should require your team to use them. While the spell-checkers are quite good, the grammar-checkers could still use some improvement. But, they require writers to think harder about their writing, which is good. Don’t forget to recommend good online dictionaries and grammar references, as well.
- Allow time for training: For employees whose jobs require real writing, find an online course and provide time for them to take it. A search for “basic English lessons online for free” reveals courses that can help native and non-native English speakers.
- Make it fun: Once employees know the basics, you can help them continue to hone their skills with games. A daily (or even weekly) crossword puzzle can help with spelling and vocabulary development, but a search for “word games” can offer other entertaining options.
- Closely monitor outside communications: Until you develop confidence in employees’ writing abilities, consider reviewing communications (particularly involving customers) before they hit Send. Review required changes with employees so that they learn. Pay particular attention to tone. A response to a customer complaint that says, let’s see how we can resolve this is generally preferable to one that says you are wrong.
#2. Oral Communication and Tact
Today’s phones are seldom used for traditional phone calls. Look around any restaurant, and you’ll see people turning to their phones rather than conversing with others at their table.
Ironically, phones are one reason why people are losing the basic social skills that are essential to developing relationships. They don’t know how to talk with customers, and poor communication often leads to internal disputes, as well. At the very least, anyone in a customer support role certainly needs to learn how to let irate customer tirades roll off their backs.
It may seem silly, but role playing can make a vital difference by allowing employees to practice these skills in a protected internal environment before releasing them into the real world. It’s worthwhile to learn how to develop good role playing scenarios, and a search for “learning tact through role playing” offers plenty of informative material.
#3. Problem Solving
Small business agility requires the ability to solve unexpected problems on the fly. When issues or emergencies arise, employees typically come to you for solutions. While this is the right thing for them to do, it also provides the opportunity for a teaching moment.
Resist the impulse to tell them what to do. Rather, take time to teach them how to clearly define it before identifying possible solutions and their potential outcomes. When you work together to reach a conclusion, they gain confidence in this important skill.
#4. Basic Math
Whether your employees need to accurately make change at a register or identify the most economical deal when buying widgets, the ability to do basic math in their heads (or at least on paper) is essential. Device batteries die unexpectedly, you know.
Explain the advantages of practicing math in everyday situations. Running mental totals offers a distraction during grocery shopping drudgery. And, the ability to find the best price of items on the shelf stretches dollars. You can force the issue in the workplace by asking employees to put devices away when they resolve common workplace problems. Even asking them to figure out the tip in restaurants can be helpful.
Also, don’t forget about math-related games. A search for “online number games for adults” offers many options.
Not all employees play well with others. Even if they’re not mired in competition, they won’t always keep each other properly informed or agree on every project decision.
There are tools for that, and a search for “online collaboration tools for business” reveals plenty of choices. Look for something that allows for document sharing and provides a project-based home page that informs team members about everything that’s going on and where they’re going next. Alerts to all participants keep them all up-to-date. Add online meetings to the mix, and members can participate no matter where they are.
Employees Can Attain Soft Skills With Your Encouragement
There may be no help for job applicants who answer five personal texts during an interview, but if you hire wisely, then you will have a team of trainable people. Your early investment in training pays off by creating a talented team that will pay it forward when helping to train future employees.