Soft (Skills) Market

Well-rounded employees are worth their weight in gold.
 

By Kyle Lagunas 
 
In today’s demanding workplace, knowledge and experience alone aren’t enough to help employees move up the ladder and drive their company’s bottom line. More than ever, soft skills—those oh-so-important qualities such as adaptability, critical thinking, and creativity—are the qualities needed to bridge the gap between good and great employees.
 
 
“People have always struggled to wrap their fingers around soft skills,” notes Tracy McCarthy, senior vice president of human resources at SilkRoad Technologies. “But soft skills are a core part of an organization today. The truth is, they are becoming the hard skills in today’s workplace.” Creating objective ways to measure and develop attributes that are really subjective can be a serious challenge. However, there are a few guides to follow when determining soft skills programs, and technology-driven tools can simplify information gathering and analysis.
 
 
Leadership needs data that illustrates the value of soft skills training programs. As such, you need to identify what matters most to your organization, and a few key factors will help you in uncovering the most actionable information:
 
 
●• Determine what you’ll be measuring. It’s important to
clearly define which soft skills are most important and how they pair with company core values. For instance, if your organization strives for high internal succession rates, leadership development and mentoring programs for employees would be critical.
●• Keep it simple. It’s best to start small and focus measurement
on one or two competency areas. The soft skills most essential to your organizations’ specific goals are the best place to start.
●• Get leadership on board. Rolling out a measurement
strategy will be an uphill battle with little payoff unless you have a unified front. Establish clarity and alignment at the outset, as this measurement process will require buy-in across the board.
 
 
After identifying which soft skills matter most, the next step is to develop and implement your measurement strategy. First on your agenda should be establishing a solid baseline of competency in your target areas. This serves two purposes: it gives you a chance to get a pulse of your organization and gives you a point of reference for benchmarking in the future.
 
 
Measurement Tools
New products on the market can help you assess and track employee performance on an on-going basis. Rypple, for example, takes performance reviews to the dynamic social media platform—tracking goals and gauging performance on a regular basis, and adding a whole new meaning to the 360-degree review.
 
 
For more specific information on performance and aptitude, you’ll need to do some digging. Traditionally, companies have coordinated focus groups or run surveys of employees and management to measure employees’ soft skills competency. However, more and more organizations are using sophisticated employee assessments such as TalentSmart, which measures the “EQ” (emotional intelligence) of employees, based on extensive psychological and sociological research. Taking the concept a step further, it offers users and administrators a comparison of their employees’ scores against the scores of countless other participants within various locations and demographics. But these data sources combined can be used to begin formulating a baseline of how employees are doing in key areas.
 
 
“Both enterprise and small- to medium-sized businesses are looking for ways to calculate ROI,” says Dave Wilkins, vice president of research at Taleo. “There are certainly metrics that can be tracked in talent management software.” Wilkins advises leveraging software to achieve best practices for calculating ROI of on-boarding and employee development. In fact, talent management software offers one of the best ways to keep tabs on these types of metrics–and some innovations are making measurement even more seamless.
 
 
For example, SilkRoad’s recently released product, Point, integrates learning and talent management via a social media platform. Point connects employees to each other, tracks competencies, and measures the influence employees have across multiple areas of expertise. Regardless of the talent management software, companies will find best practices built into the workflows that save time and energy in on-going evaluations.
 
 
HR analytics tools offered via talent management systems are also helpful for managing on-going evaluation. Take Taleo Talent Management, for example. With built-in metrics, administrators can gather hard data on key performance indicators and identify changes and trends in the workforce—areas that can be tracked to soft skill competencies and development. By providing actionable data on key areas—retention rates, time to proficiency, cost per employee, etc.—Wilkins says you can benchmark the impact of learning development, and improve execution by measuring organizational alignment.
 
 
Using today’s technology can help companies achieve their goals while monitoring employee progress, improvement, and succession. Talent retention will continue to be a key for organizational success.
 

 
Kyle Lagunas is HR analyst at Software Advice, a company that reviews human resources software and reports on technology, trends, and best practices. He can be reached at kdlagunas@softwareadvice.com. Follow his blog (blog.softwareadvice.com) and twitter feed (@KyleLagunas).
 
 
Kyle’s latest project:
Many organizations are shifting away from company-issued devices and adopting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, which allow employees to use the mobile technology they’re most familiar with. There’s a lot of buzz around the benefits of BYOD in an increasingly mobile workforce, but little discussion around the policies needed to establish rules and guidelines for usage.
 
BYOD policies, of course, have benefits and drawbacks. While the freedom to choose the device and platform you’re most proficient in can boost productivity, supporting multiple platforms can be a burden for IT, and security issues are a significant concern. What difference does it make whether it’s a Dell or Mac when an employee’s laptop is stolen and he hasn’t installed any remote data wiping software? And who’s responsible for replacing that laptop if the employee lost it while travelling for work? As enforcing these policies often falls to HR, shouldn’t we be doing more to determine priorities and establish best practices?


Software Advice is gathering information on a survey about "bring your own device" policies at growing businesses, and would like your input! You can take the BYOD survey and find out the results in March.

Posted February 15, 2012 in Engaged Workforce

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