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Does Your Business Have a "Softer" Side?

Does Your Business Have a "Softer" Side?

Greg Pernula | i4cp

November 18, 2009

Listen up. To maintain a competitive advantage, most companies are paying attention to the development of professional “soft skills” to boost performance, according to i4cp’s latest study. Members can now download the results in PDF, PowerPoint and Interactive Data formats.

The study found that, overall, 76% of study respondents have identified soft skills such as listening skills, persuasion and teamwork that lead to successful organizational performance. Among large and high market performing companies, the numbers climb. Eighty-three percent of companies with 10,000 or more employees said they identify soft skills, compared to 72% of firms with 100-999 workers and 65% of those with fewer than 100 employees. Also, 85% of high-performing organizations ID soft skills, whereas 70% of lower performers reported doing so.

The most common method companies use to identify soft skills is an internal process developed by subject matter experts (HR, for instance), with 57% of overall respondents citing this method. Third-party consulting is a distant second, at 15%, followed by interviews and analysis of successful employees, at 11%. Among higher-performing organizations, 69% favor an internally developed process, compared to 59% of lower performers.

“Soft skills can be a real differentiator in the business world and a key to improved market performance,” said Eric Davis, i4cp’s associate editor. “More often than not, it’s who we are, not what we know, that seals the deal. The most technically competent people will still flounder if they can’t communicate properly or play well with others in a business setting. Development of soft skills can help make seemingly unrelated functions run more effectively by enabling employees in the social acumen it takes to get ahead and smoothing out the communication process.”

As far as training or work experiences to build soft skills, 64%of respondents overall tabbed teamwork and “role of a leader” as their top choices, followed by coaching (60%), time management (53%), and listening skills (49%). Among high performers, role of a leader was selected by 65% of respondents, followed by teamwork (64%) and time-management skills (59%). Comparatively, 61% of lower-performing organizations favor teamwork, followed by role of a leader (57%) and coaching (54%).

The business rationale for offering such training revolves around business needs and worker development. Overall, 73% said the training is offered because soft skills are seen as “critical skills required for business success,” while 69% cited the training as an “integral part of employee development,” and 61% said the training “improves individual performance.” A full 81% of higher performers pointed to critical skills training as the top consideration, as compared to 69% of lower performers.

To fund soft skills training, most companies (36%) use HR or training budgets, while 33% said the funding comes via corporate allocation. Thirty-one percent overall said the money comes from the business line or location level.

So, what happens to soft skills budgets in a sour economy? According to 47% of companies overall, when budgets are cut, soft skills training is reduced, but still offered. Almost two of 10 (19%) said their budgets have not been at risk, and 15% said soft skills training has no special priority when it comes to budget cutting. In higher-performing organizations, 29% say their soft skills budgets have never been cut, compared to 16% of lower-performing firms.

The Identifying and Developing Soft Skills survey was conducted by i4cp in October 2009. The full results of the survey are available exclusively for all i4cp corporate members.

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