“Adulting”: Going to work. Remembering to submit your tax return. Putting out the garbage. Hoovering before the dust bunnies form their own tiny army. Almost mechanic dealings with the things that keep our daily lives ticking over. This is contrasted with the more recent rise of “humaning” on social media: Pursuing activities that define us as homo sapiens. Human beings capable of showing kindness and empathy. Human beings with quirks and flaws. Complex creatures shaped by all we’ve experienced, culture, history, life.
Man versus machine: soft skills to the fore
How does this translate to soft skills? According to McKinsey Global Institute, around 50% of current work activities could be automated by adapting existing technologies. In an age when progress is nigh on synonymous with increased automation, there is unique value to be found in the quality of being human. Being able to identify with and accommodate customers. Making them feel heard and catered to. Being able to work in a team and communicate respectfully and effectively.
There is a richness inherent in possessing attributes that neither robots nor computers can compete with, which – if properly fostered and adequately cherished – can make all the difference to a company’s longevity. As Forbes tells us:
Artificial intelligence is far from mastering critical thinking, leadership and listening skills.
According to the LinkedIn 2019 Workplace Learning Report, this year is marked by increased efforts to “identify, assess and close skill gaps”. The report highlights the demand for soft skills that are innately human: creativity, persuasion and collaboration, for instance. Including soft skills like these in recruitment processes, training opportunities and corporate culture is paramount on today’s job market.
The backbone of the hospitality industry
What is now appearing as a trend across the board has been the modus operandi in the hospitality and tourism industry for decades. The entire industry revolves around the ability of hospitality staff to use soft skills efficiently: understanding guests’ needs to deliver a positive customer service experience, drawing on networking skills to cultivate relationships and stimulate repeat business, exercising cultural awareness, demonstrating flexibility, multitasking… The list goes on and on.
An undervalued catalyst for success
Surely any company, regardless of the industry, would benefit from greater customer satisfaction, a loyal clientele and an adept, agile workforce. The advantages companies reap from having employees with excellent soft skills are manifold.
Every interaction between employee and customer contributes to corporate image. Every interaction between employee and line manager contributes to efficiency. Strong time management skills and processes optimized through successful teamwork ensure value generation is as lean as it can be.
And yet, soft skills training programs are often among the first expenditures to be cut when finances are tight. Why?
In contrast with hard skills, soft skills are difficult to measure and their benefits hard to quantify. Shareholders expect to see figures justifying each budget item, and the financial repercussions of improved soft skills are notoriously tricky to pin down.
Increased productivity and efficiency
A study conducted in 2017 by Namrata Kala of MIT Sloan along with colleagues from the University of Michigan and Boston College begins to shed light on this issue. The randomized controlled trial involved five factories in Bangalore run by Indian garment manufacturer Shahi Exports. Participants attended a 12-month soft skills training program called “Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE)”, covering a range of topics including time management, effective communication, problem solving and financial literacy.
Comparing the cost of running the program with the resulting increase in revenue, the study recorded an impressive return on investment of 250% within eight months.
A 250% ROI? On an assembly line performing repetitive labor? Indeed, being best able to follow instructions from superiors, communicate with team members and meet deadlines pays off. Using production data gathered on the factory floor, HR data on attendance and salaries, as well as a worker survey conducted once the program was completed, the researchers were able to identify several areas of improvement.
Both productivity and efficiency were increased among workers who participated in the program (10% and 12%, respectively, relative to control groups). Participants were also observed to perform complex tasks more quickly. Not to mention spillover productivity benefits for those employees on the same lines as program participants.
Decreased employee attrition costs
The study also demonstrated short-term gains in improved attendance and increased employee retention during the program. Job satisfaction improves when employees feel they are nurtured and valued. With employee turnover being a considerable cost factor for any organisation, providing opportunities for soft skills development could be an interesting way to curb these costs to the benefit of the bottom line.
Other industries would do well to take a leaf out of the hospitality business’ book and place soft skills training at the top of their agendas. After all, to quote the late Maya Angelou:
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.