Soft skills are crucial. Whether you’re thinking about traditional skills, such as time management and communication, or more modern skills, like managing remotely or online meetings, it’s no secret that personal and professional development is critical for any organisations success.
But, in L&D, there is still the frustrating struggle to identify soft skill gaps. On the one hand the gap can be quite clear but on the other, people are not always able to own or articulate that need. In addition to this, the very systems we have in place to help us distil that information can also thwart us, for example requiring appraisals once a year, only ever seems to skim the surface of development needs. There are also other barriers standing in the way, including communication, processes and culture, and whilst many of us are already undertaking some of the key activities to highlight skills needs, we would all welcome ways to improve
If you too would like to improve, check your current activity against some of our suggestions below – are you doing everything you can to elicit the very needs upon which your role depends?
While some high-profile organisations are getting rid of the formal appraisal system, it remains a reality for most businesses, and even those that are doing away with them are not doing away with a feedback conversation that will continue to identify skill gaps.
Fine tuning the skills of all concerned will undoubtedly improve the process and outcomes, and will provide you will a richer vein of articulated needs.
Helping both the individual and the manager know what skills enable high performance and helping them to objectively measure that skill (knowledge or behaviour) will help them enormously – with the added bonus that L&D will benefit from much more clearly defined needs.
Undertaking a Business and a Learning Needs Analysis (B/LNA) usually helps form an L&D strategy, which supports the business strategy. It might be old school, but carrying out a formal review will inevitably enhance your understanding of the business and the context in which the skills are applied, as well as providing comprehensive data relating to any skills gaps.
Whilst it is often seen as an expense and time consuming activity, it always pays dividends down the line, and is invaluable when petitioning for budget and writing business cases.
Most organisations use benchmarking for salaries, but many are using it for skills as well. This is a great way to establish areas for improvement and moving from ‘competent’ to ‘excelling’.
Using the Towards Maturity benchmark (there are others, of course) is a brilliant way of future proofing your strategy and actively requires you to critique what the needs are and how you are currently addressing them.
Benchmarking a variety of experiences and levels will create a transparent view of where you expect people’s skill levels to be, and when. Having this information can help L&D proactively meet those needs, whether it be through an induction plan or a longer-term skills development programme.
Meeting with other organisations to share experiences and outcomes is another way to benchmark informally, and just having a coffee with someone from another sector can be a brilliant way to understand how the demands on the workforce are changing and what new skills they are identifying compared to your own sector. This information will help you to think again about how you are eliciting skills gaps and question whether your methods allow the emergence of new skills.
Every person, team and organisation faces a crisis at some point, and it’s only after the event has taken place and is resolved that we often step back and review the how. How did that crisis happen? What weren’t we prepared for? How can we avoid this happening again?
Being able to honestly answer these questions could open up a skills need that was otherwise unrecognised. We can’t always identify where development is required, but when pressure hits and something goes wrong, it uncovers some of these areas, creating an opportunity for L&D. If L&D take that one step further and proactively offer or build their expertise into the process through facilitating these types of reviews, you will be able to really understand the issue and help all concerned understand the skills that might have prevented the crisis, in addition to any process improvements, that people often focus on.
These are just a few ways to improve processes you may already have in place to help identify soft skill gaps. If you want to delve a little deeper, why not take download our whitepaper Preparing for the rise of the soft skill.
Rachel Matthews, Social Media and Marketing Manager
In my blogs I will look at industry constraints and issues and problems that employees face in their day-to-day work lives.
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