The competition for up-and-coming talent has become increasingly fierce. As such, the rules of engagement have changed considerably. Organizations are now functioning in the world of the empowered employee, who is looking for much more than fair compensation and benefits. Employees and potential hires today are drawn to fluid workplaces that are not bound by rigid schedules and allow for flexibility, autonomy and opportunities for rapid career advancement.
Top candidate wish list items now include well-being and employee engagement programs, channels that encourage feedback and open dialogue, and training policies that enable both technical and soft skills development that will help them fast-track their personal and professional growth. Add to that a workplace culture that champions environmental stewardship, corporate social responsibility programs, and diversity, equity and inclusion commitments, among other initiatives that align with employees’ personal values.
To create a positive experience throughout the employment journey, it is extremely important that managers and executives are tuned into these priorities. That means applying appropriate management tools and training to guide them through the various stages of their career development. Helping them navigate their career path to their specifications not only increases engagement and retention, it also provides the company with a wealth of experienced talent to draw from when filling more senior roles.
There is, however, a growing gap in developing well-rounded talent that is gaining increasing attention. That is, the need for soft skills. Studies have shown that while the need is there, execution is falling short.
CERIC’s 2021 National Business Survey, conducted by Environics, shows that compared to 2013, executives are now more likely to hire someone with soft skills who is a good fit than to keep searching for someone with the right technical skills.
A McKinsey & Company report, Soft skills for a hard world, confirms the surge in demand for soft skills, noting that “social, emotional and technological skills are becoming more crucial as intelligent machines take over more physical repetitive and basic cognitive tasks.”
A 2019 Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) report also states that the top three missing soft skills are: problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity; ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity; and communication.
“Helping [employees] navigate their career path to their specifications not only increases engagement and retention, it also provides the company with a wealth of experienced talent to draw from when filling more senior roles.”
However, CERIC’s National Business Survey also indicates that since 2013 executives have expressed difficulty finding people with the right skill set. Today, more executives consider finding such people to be difficult (81%) than in 2013 (70%).
Given the highly competitive employment market today, it is time to consider approaching the situation from a different perspective. That is, developing tailored training and development programs that build those missing, but highly valued skills – an internal MBA program if you will, whose main qualification requirement is an eagerness to learn and commitment to developing new skills.
This type of training can involve both unstructured, simple initiatives and structured support. For example, internal and external mentoring, buddy systems and team-building activities all play a useful role in developing soft skills. While these are often used to encourage personal development, they also need to be supported by a more formalized program that progressively builds the vital skills that employees need to service clients, contribute to the decision-making process and advance their career. Components could include subject areas such as project management, communication skills, interview training and coaching, and more.
For these training programs to succeed, they cannot be treated as one-off initiatives that can be covered in a single sitting. It needs to be a systematic effort that can be tailored to different stages in an employee’s career advancement, from sales and frontline customer service basics to advanced leadership and management skills. Think of it as a soft skills incubator of sorts, which is supporting employees to gain valuable skills that will set them up for future success within your firm or beyond.
At Dialectica, this process begins at the hiring stage. New employees are introduced to an informal buddy system and allocated to a team led by a coach, where they can work collectively with peers and engage in team bonding events. At that time, the employee also joins an intensive training program which takes them through a three-phase process.
The first phase focuses on building relationships and trust. At this point participants learn how to identify their clients’ needs. Training is tailored to sales skills, commercial acumen, research, and time management and prioritization. Important components may include the art of dealing with difficult peers and clients, effective communications with C-suite executives and customer interaction.
Once those building blocks are mastered, training can move on to building their skills in client communications, project management and operational excellence through studying industry best practices, and further development of communication skills.
Once their competencies evolve, and their career is progressing, coaching and mentoring becomes an integral part of their development. At this stage, it is essential they learn and share their experiences with managers and peers, while working though different scenarios that require more advanced interpersonal skills and learning to provide constructive feedback. An added advantage in today’s hybrid work environment is that mentors can be from any part of our operations around the globe.
It is increasingly clear that the empowered employee not only demands but expects to gain the skills needed to achieve their career goals. The more you can support their journey, the greater the chances you will have a productive, talented and dedicated team that will stay with you for the long haul.