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5 Steps to Making Soft Skills, Super Skills

Author: Garrick Throckmorton

Soft skills. There is quick consensus to be found among organizational leaders that soft skills are vital for performing effectively at all levels. However, few agree about “what” the exhaustive list of soft skills may be. Before diving deeper on that topic, let us first define a hard skill. A hard skill is part of the skillset that is required for a job. Expertise is needed and acquired through formal training, education or on-the-job experience as examples. Hard skills are easy to spot, easier to measure, and often the full basis for hiring decisions. However, only 20% of all job terminations are due to a lack of hard skills!

5 Key Steps to Making Soft Skills, Super Skills

Soft skills, on the other hand, account for a majority of terminations and the impact of their absence is felt by the individual, team, organization, and in the broader economy! Loss of productivity alone is estimated to exceed $10 billion in 2020 due to soft skill deficits. Additionally, 48% of employees report a decrease in the effort they put forth at work when their manager has ineffective soft skills.

So what are soft skills, why are they so hard to develop, and what steps can you take to develop them today?

Through the lens of our research at TalentTelligent, and our KSA Suite of Tools, we know that not all soft skills are created equal. Meaning, one soft skill might be more important in your industry, in your organization, or even at your level than in another context. Therefore, if you are looking for the final authority and exhaustive list of soft skills that you need to develop today . . . we are sorry to disappoint you!

However, through our performance libraries and work with clients, we have found patterns of mission-critical soft skills uniquely needed by Leaders, Managers/Supervisors and Individual Contributors. At the same time, these soft skills are consistently rated as areas of needed improvement on assessments. Here are a few highlighted soft skills from each area of our KSA Suite that we refer to as Practices:

Leaders Managers/Supervisors Individual Contributors
Leading Change and Transitions Showing Humility Developing Resilience and Resourcefulness
Transparency Effectively Managing Conflict Collaborating
Demonstrating Presence Communicating Effectively Influencing Others

So why are soft skills so hard to develop? First, our brains are designed to resist developing these skills because they require a “whole brain response.” The total cortical involvement that is required for a soft skill (e.g. active listening) requires high degrees of energy to be used to be successful, which the brain experiences as unpleasant. After all, the brain’s goal is to reserve energy as a means to maximize its efficiency. Soft skill development is in conflict with that goal.

Second, successful deployment of a soft skill does not often receive the type of automatic positive reinforcement that a hard skill often does. Take, for example, the successful expression of a non-verbal behavior (e.g. making eye contact with a colleague after you put your cell phone out of sight) that allows a colleague to know you are fully engaged in the conversation. While an incredibly important trust-building moment, the positive reinforcement is not as acute as what one experiences the first time they learn how to use a pivot table in Microsoft Excel (instant success and efficiencies are found)!

To get started developing soft skills that over time become super skills, we recommend that you consider the following 5 key steps.

  • Align – Create a profile in the context in which you work that defines the mission critical soft skills needed to drive effectiveness. At TalentTelligent, we use a card sorting methodology and performance libraries to accomplish this goal.
  • Assess – Measure your current perceived performance to identify strengths and gaps.
  • Analyze – Sort and prioritize which skills can be developed in the short term and those over a longer term.
  • Develop – Create and execute a plan that involves knowledge of the brain’s resistance to your plan, stretch assignments, feedback, mentoring and coaching. Each of our development tools includes Braintelligent tips to help get you started!
  • Monitor – Measure your progress, adjust your plan, and don’t give in to your brain’s desire to stop along the way!

For a deeper dive on this topic, listen to the 1-hour recorded webinar entitled, “Soft Skills are the Hardest” by Managing Partner Roger Pearman.

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