Soft Skills Management Tips
Soft skills are the skills that include communication, social graces, language, habits, managing people, leadership, how you react to situations, and all the other non-position-centric parts of a job that characterize relationships with other people. In this blog, we explain Soft Skill Management with examples.
I’ve heard soft skills referred to as how well you work with others, how you conduct yourself, and how you extrovert.
I often hear people say that they hire based on soft skills because you can train job-specific skills but not soft skills. I’ve been hiring and guiding people for 20 years, and at this point, I think I vehemently disagree.
In some cases, people don’t want social graces. In others, people (especially really smart people) rarely have the patience. But, provided you have a willing recipient, you can train people on how to work well with others. Just ask Zig Ziglar, one of the best salespeople and a famous motivational speaker for sales. He made a career out of doing so.
How do you help people develop these soft skills? Be aware. Put people in situations where they can collaborate with other people in increasingly meaningful ways. Engage with Emotional Intelligence training. Find out where people are at. Care. Try.
That’s a lot and pretty much sums up the overarching strategy that many take-ups. I like the idea of breaking the strategy down into some tactical steps that you can take. So let’s take a look at some of the skills that can be developed, and how you might go about doing so.
There are organizations like Toastmasters that are dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking skills. But in my experience, it’s all about getting out there and doing it. With most skills in general, it’s all about repetition. With public speaking, it’s also valuable to have people record and watch their own presentations.
Doing so helps reduce all the things that you do while speaking that detract from the message you’re trying to communicate (like gesticulation, putting your hands in and out of your pockets, rocking back and forth, timing, and of course not using the word “um”).
\ Being engaging: It’s important to be able to work a room for a lot of fields. The inflection in your voice, being authentic, bringing a unique perspective, actually listening, keeping a conversation on point, being positive (while staying authentic), and so much more. The best way to work on this is to just pay attention when in social situations.
Paying special attention to watching for eyes glazing over during a discussion, reading other neuro-linguistic queues, choosing where to emphasize, and genuinely being interesting in hearing someone else speak rather than just waiting for your turn to talk are all other great ways to be engaging.
The key is to be with people, talking, learning, and paying attention. Discussing what worked and what didn’t is also a huge help.
\ Writing: Most of these skills need to be practiced in person. When training writing skills, though, it can be equally as educational to just use track changes and comments. I’ve learned so much from the editors of blogs I’ve written.
Strategic things like being more succinct, tactical things like ending all items in a bulleted list with the same punctuation, and fine-tuning items such as using fewer gerunds. Writing is a great skill that will be with employees forever. As is the patience you learn from taking constructive criticism.
\ Collaboration with peers: This is similar to be engaging but operating in a group dynamic. When overly engaging, we’re not accepting enough input. When we’re not engaging enough, we aren’t contributing to the group.
A structured approach to collaboration can help but, especially with engineers, can just be a crutch that takes up a bunch of time. One challenge is to not let dogma drag you down. Another is to inspire the quiet people in the room.
I’ve recorded meetings and then played them back. You usually don’t even need to point out better ways to handle situations, as people can see them for themselves.
So if you’retrying to train on collaboration in this manner (or just discussing a meeting after the fact without a recording), just ask questions about situations and let the person you’re mentoring find the answer themselves.
\ Problem solving:
As with most other soft skills, training people to be better at problem-solving involves having people solve various problems and then providing constructive guidance on other creative ways to think about a problem.
For example, one technique I’ve had a lot of success within this regard is to point out the type of strategy (e.g., abstraction, reduction, lateral thinking, root cause analysis, analogy, trial, and error)being employed when someone is going through a problem and how other strategies might have led to are sult quicker or with more accuracy.
\ Troubleshooting: I put this back-to-back with problem-solving because troubleshooting is often just problem solving specific to your industry.
Depending on your industry, there are also lots of problem-solving methodologies that might lend themselves well to keep employees on the same page in their approaches.
Add the technical or logistical elements of problem-solving specific to your organization or product to a methodology and you have a solid approach to teaching solid troubleshooting skills.
But keep in mind that proficiency in your business or product is key to getting solid troubleshooting skills. Knowing the nitty-gritty details about a topic helps in refining your search for a problem.
\ Thinking creatively:
\ Time management: Time management can help employees be more efficient. When people feel like they’ve accomplished a lot, they often end up happier as well.
There are hundreds of blogs and courses on time management. I recommend finding one of the courses that match your organization’s values and sending one or two staff through it.
They can then report back on the strategy and value. I don’t want to endorse a single product or program for most of the items on this list, so choose the one to start with, ask people you respect who manage their time well if they have a course they would recommend, hit your favorite search engine, and do some research.
Most of the programs revolve around priorities, so in the meantime think of how best to organize tasks based on the type of task and priority for that task. This alone will have an immediate impact while you look for a program to help teach the staff.
\ Optimism: Optimism is an interesting thing to teach. Better equipping people with the other soft skills often leads to a more optimistic approach in and of itself. Optimism is often a direct response to self-esteem.
But there are a few different specific strategies that might or might not work, given an employee’s disposition. One of the most important is to be optimistic in your own approach.
Don’t allow yourself to get down in the weeds, talking smack about the organization. Do talk about the details of a given situation in a way that better equips someone to handle the situation in the future.
Talk about emotions. This can be hard with some employees and the depth of a relationship you have with them. Finally, communicating trust in an employee or team can also have a pretty substantial impact, especially when done so over time.
\ Traveling well:
I used to have a lot of people on my staff that did a lot of traveling. I’d have all of them try and choose a specific airline, get in mileage programs, center around a specific car rental service, get into that loyalty program, choose a preferred hotel, get in that loyalty program.
And send them templates for calls to have with customers before they got on a plane (to make sure the customer and my employees were ready for whatever they were traveling to do), provide the easiest expense reporting solution, have a concierge available to help when needed, and much more.
Being a road warrior can be hard. Anything you can do to support your front line is helpful.
\ Be succinct: Conveying your message clearly but quickly helps keep the attention of others. Doing sore quires staying on point. To help employees with this, I’ve engaged in conversations and pointed out when we stray from the central topic. Obviously, you want employees to speak naturally.
However, you can also help to refine the approach by providing guidance. The same extends to the written word. Simply pointing out where writing begins to stray will help to build a habit of staying on point.
Finally, you can provide Douglas Adams blogs to employees with a message of “do the exact opposite.”
What skill should each employee work on? Given these, create a professional development plan. Start with a template. I like a 360 approach, where you have employees rate themselves in each category.
Then have coworkers rate each other (anonymously works best). Provide your own input and then communicate with each employee where additional time should be spent working on their skills.
And make a plan to do so. I like accompanying such a plan with a communication plan, or when you’ll check in on the status of each area being worked on.
Of course, these soft skills are likely being worked on while educating employees about your business or product. But blending various areas for people to work on helps identify that you care about their professional development and are not just trying to leverage them to get as much revenue as possible.
Want to know more? I laid out each bullet in such a way that you can copy the first few words, paste them into a search engine, and get more information about that topic than you could ever want.
Additionally, there’s a blog with lots of research and case studies that outline the impact such change can provide for an organization.
The Management Shift is a blog that provides practical approaches to identify leadership problems that plague many organizations as well as how to shift mindset and organizational culture. There are more of these types of blogs that can be counted, but it’s a great one to start with!
Good luck, and on behalf of your employees and potential future employers of those employees, thank you! Now that you’ve got employees with the skills you want them to have, let’s move on to keeping them on the payroll.
Wikis for Onboarding
Many of us use wiki-style solutions or portals for building out onboarding documentation. Tools like Confluence, Sharepoint sites, Google Docs strung together, or other alternatives increasingly help organizations communicate standard operating procedures, complex thoughts, notes from meetings, and any other information that the organization needs to store.
As sites grow, they get messy. Style, consistency, flow, structure, and guidelines become a bit more important, as do things like grammar. There are a ton of things you can do to make your pages better, without adding fireworks and animations. Let’s look at some of the big ones
I’ve found over the years:
\ Don’t bury the lede. Add an introduction to any page that’s over 500 words.
\ Use different header levels. I like to start most documents with an outline. That outline becomes headers, and sometimes the introduction of a given paragraph. Doing so also allows you to build those headers before you start typing into your document.
\ Use a Table of Contents. Not every page is going to need a Table of Contents. But if you can’t see all of the headers on a page, I would recommend making browsing through a given page easier.
\ Spelling and grammar count. Yes, I know, you got your point across to most with that brilliantly built page. But many were lost for a bit trying to overlook that blatant “their vs. there” or the 5-line sentence that had 16 comes in it.
Internal documents at your organizations might not need to be perfect, but it helps make you look more intelligent, while not losing any of your readers along the way. Also, use a consistent actor and tense throughout a document; otherwise, most of us get confused after a while.
\ Add section breaks. You know those cute little horizontal lines in your text. They help a reader to understand when jumping between two sections. Alternatively, consider different page structures. But I’ve rarely seen cases where two-columned pages (or more) shouldn’t just be separate pages.
\ Bold things, but not too many things. I like to use bold for emphasis. After all, that’s what it’s there for. I don’t use all-capped items EVER unless the article contains an acronym or the item is capped in a screenshot that I’m quoting. When listing acronyms, there’s no need for periods between letters.
\ When documenting software, quote items on a screen. For example, if the screen says “Click here to start” and you have a sentence that contains the string “click on Click here to start before you,” then no matter what else is in that sentence a reader is completely lost.
Additionally, if documenting a command line interface, use a separate font to identify inputs and outputs from the text of your article.
\ Use bullets and numbered lists. If you’re adding a step-by-step to a document, use a numbered list (this makes it easier to refer to steps by a number in the future).
If you’re working on a paragraph and have more supporting thoughts to an argument than three, then consider moving those into bulleted lists. If you are building a list in a sentence with more than three or four items, also consider moving those items into bullets.
\ Annotate images. Oh, and use images. But if you use images, annotating them will make it easier for a reader to find what you’re referring to in the text.
\ Watch comments. Be prepared for comments the second you click save on a new page, or article. Many will watch feeds of all the documents in a given section of your company intranet or site that contain a given tag.
Then the comments will come in. Rather than force people to hunt through comments or assume the whole company bothers to read those comments, update the content of an article when appropriate (e.g., every time someone asks a question). I like to use an FAQ section for doing so.
\ Summarize long and complex processes. Any process that requires more than 10 clicks on a screen or more than 10 steps should also include a summary beforehand.
The longer the process, the less information you’ll want to put into each step. The more information (a.k.a. text) you put into each step, the more you should also consider adding images, mind maps, or flowcharts to help readers not get lost.
\ Use smaller words. Remember, not everyone will easily follow when you leverage the vast cornucopia of your lexicon to woo them into believing you’re smarty pants. Use small words when available and simple sentence structures when possible.
\ Keep it short. A wiki article probably shouldn’t be more than 1,500 words, unless it is defining a complex process. And then each sentence should be short enough to not require ending punctuation (think tweets with good grammar!). Remember, you can link to articles and pages from other articles. Use that to your advantage at any time possible.
\ Tag pages. A number of internal documentation systems allow for watching pages with a certain tag or inserting a feed of pages with a given tag into other pages. Tagging pages also make them easier to find when you wonder if you wrote up a topic or process already.
\ Save every now and then. Yes, most systems will automatically save every few minutes (or even every time you click). But not all. Especially on brand new pages where you haven’t actually clicked that Save button yet.
No one ever wants to delete anything these days! But routinely review and re-organize your organization’s or team’s site. Priorities shift. Tasks get completed. Responsibilities come and go. Routinely revisiting your content structure helps you stay in front of data sprawl and stale content!