For all the benefits of hard, technical skills in the workplace, without personal interaction, business progress will always be limited. Soft skills are defined as "personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people", according to Oxford Dictionaries.
Why are soft skills important?
Based on a recent media statement from Hays, the most important element about soft skills is that they can't be taught, only supported. While employees can perfect their technical skills or undertake university degrees to expand their knowledge, if they don't have the communication tools or techniques to showcase them, technical skills will have little impact on operations.
"Strong soft skills enable a leader to better understand, motivate and direct people, and as a result their teams are often more focused, productive and happier," Hays CEO Alistair Cox explained.
"More senior leaders need to understand that these important skills aren't just a 'nice-to-have' in an employee, they are crucial to the success of both the individual and the business."
However, as Mr Cox cites, the merits of soft skills are often overlooked by organisations. This sentiment is reflected in similar research carried out by Robert Half.
Soft skills among areas for improvement
Based on a survey of 2500 chief information officers, the area most in need of improvement within the business structure (cited by 28% of respondents) was communication skills, which includes written, interpersonal and face-to-face communication. This answer was followed by problem-solving skills (21%), work ethics (18%) and creative thinking (13%).
For employees who are seeking career progression or looking for a new challenge, soft skills such as communication are key, according to John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology.
"Technology employees who seek advancement in today's business environment require a healthy mix of business acumen, interpersonal skills and technical ability," he stated.
"Unlike learning a new programming language or technology, soft skills are developed gradually and should be a priority throughout one's career."
How can business leaders allow soft skills to flourish?
As cited above, soft skills are an essential part of any modern business. This means it is a process that employees themselves shouldn't be left alone to address - enterprise heads should take a controlling role in soft skill development and improvement.
Increase interaction with the team
In organisations where soft skills such as communication are ignored, it is likely that senior management will be quite isolated from regular employees. Hays uses the example of replacing email communications with more personalised approaches where the distance between the two parties can be reduced and the chance to collaborate is improved.
Mr Cox stated that business leaders should set an example by demonstrating the importance of interpersonal skills to their workforce. This is where web conferencing can be of value.
If an enterprise has an important company report to be released to the workforce, instead of sending around a boring email that employees won't engage with, set up a web conference where they can join an interactive presentation. Using graphs, videos, tables and diagrams, employees can begin to feel part of business progress and be more open to expressing their feelings and comments.
Create an open environment
It is fair to state that each individual employee brings different technical skills and knowledge into their employment. However, due to the lack of transparency around soft skills, this information and potential for ideas may never come to light.
Hays noted that employees need to feel free to discuss project ideas and thoughts without the fear of being cut down by senior management. While creating this environment might seem tricky, it is simple with the help of teleconferencing.
Regardless of where different departments, employees and senior management are located, teleconferences can be established to discuss ideas and concepts. Over 1000 guests can join the conference, improving the scope for employees to use their soft skills.
"You need to encourage yourself and others to think about what prevents someone speaking up in a meeting or putting forward an idea," Mr Cox said.
Build relationships across departments
In today's international business world, enterprises will often have multiple departments scattered around the globe. While this is good from a business sense, it can be tough to build a culture and establish communication channels across borders.
This is where introducing technology such as web conferencing and teleconferencing is useful. Regardless of the distance, teams can talk, interact and discuss projects and issues in real time. This allows everyone to have a say.
To support soft skills in your business environment, get in contact with our expert team today.