How to Strengthen Your Staff’s Soft Skills

Soft skills—though critical for the association workforce—are on a decline, according to some sources. But never fear: We’ve pulled together a few tips to boost soft skills around the office.

Soft skills are those seemingly je ne sais quoi talents and traits that separate top job candidates from the rest of the pack. They can be qualitative in nature, and they might even be difficult to articulate.

Juxtaposed against hard skills—specific teachable and measureable abilities—soft skills are those that enable effective and agreeable interaction with others, according to a definition that Google churned out. Examples might include good communication skills, a positive attitude, flexibility, problem-solving abilities, and a team-player mentality—or even the discretion to wear workplace-appropriate attire, to come to work on time, and to actually work while at the office.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, soft skills such as these are in high demand and short supply. “I can teach somebody how to slice and dice onions. I can teach somebody how to cook a soup,” said Washington-area restaurateur Cindy Herold to the Wall Street Journal. “But it’s hard to teach someone normal manners, or what you consider work ethic.”

To underscore this heightened desire for soft-skilled employers, 77 percent of respondents to a 2014 CareerBuilder survey said they were seeking job candidates with soft skills.  And 16 percent said they valued soft skills more than hard skills in hiring.

Why Should Associations Care?

Associations should want to hire employees with soft skills too. Just as the team is only as good as the players, the association is only as good as the staff. The staff is the face of the association to its members, so their attitude, commitment, and communication, for instance—whether positive or negative—reflects back on the association.

It’s also a matter of productivity. If staff is getting to work late, dressing unprofessionally, or lazing about the cubicle all day, then the association probably isn’t living out its mission statement or accomplishing its goals.

What Can Associations Do?

Besides hiring the right people who already possess these soft skills—and can offer concrete examples of how they’ve used them previously during the interview process—associations can also help their staff to acquire soft skills. For example, Bruce Tulgan, the founder of RainmakerThinking Inc. and a speaker at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition, said that organizations should take staff onboarding very seriously.

Tulgan recommends four ways to build up their soft skills, right at the start of employment:

  1. Name certain soft skills, and describe why they are important to the organization.
  2. Explain how the cultivation of these soft skills can benefit careers.
  3. Lay out step-by-step directions for what staff needs to do to achieve these soft skills.
  4. Acknowledge when staff is attaining certain soft skills.

Perhaps one of the best ways to boost soft skills at associations is to lead by example. “The company culture and work environment you establish as a manager play a huge role in encouraging (or discouraging) the development of these skills,” wrote Nicole Fallon on Business News Daily. “If you want employees to work hard and collaborate with each other, you need to show them how first.”

Have you experienced a decline in soft skills with job applicants and new hires? If so, how has your association tackled the challenge? Please leave your insights in the comments below.


Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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