There is plenty written about staff retention which tells us that financial incentives alone do not prevent people leaving. High up there on the list of retention factors is purposeful professional development which not only adds to people’s skills sets, both hard AND soft, but also assists people to feel that their work is meaningful and part of something bigger. I would add that people want to feel engaged in a job which affords them the opportunity to grow as a human being, not just to learn some things they can add to their work-based skill set.
It is also well known that the costs of losing people who aren’t quite right can be high, in terms of recruiting replacements, loss of ‘company memory’ and lost production time while getting the new people up to speed. In other words, it is important to develop what you’ve got.
The distaste for the term notwithstanding, it is the so-called ‘soft skills’ of your people which will assist them to put their technical skills into good practice. Poorly developed ‘social smarts’ can get in the way of high performance at work. There was even a survey in 2009 that showed that 85% of high-performing companies identified the soft skills that were essential to improved performance. What I am talking about are such things as empathy, ability to see a bigger picture, conflict resolution, genuine team playing and self-awareness. What’s more, the further up the ‘food chain’ someone is, the more the lack of these soft skills is felt by the business, hence the need to provide opportunities for staff to grow themselves. Once identified, how do you develop such skills?
There are lots of good professional development seminars or presentations providing essential ‘content’ orientated towards ‘soft skills’. This is the ‘what’. You learn about competencies (or soft skills, or whatever term you find most palatable). You learn about emotional intelligence, for example-what it is, where it comes from perhaps, maybe even the ’10 top tips’. But this is like learning about skiing from a powerpoint presentation or a book, rather than learning how to ski…you know, on the slopes?….falling down now and then?….feeling what it feels like to turn gracefully?
The training euphoria that people often experience following many training events tends to wear off rather quickly. At times, any initial behaviour or attitude shifts vanish quickly, and it seems that people are more or less back where they started. The ‘how’ to make the learning stick just hasn’t happened, which leads to the high level of cynicism about ‘soft skills’ training. According to Goleman et al (1998), “In order to reprogram neural circuits connecting the amygdala and neocortex, people need to actually engage in the desired pattern of thought, feeling, and action. A lecture is fine for increasing understanding of emotional intelligence, but experiential methods usually are necessary for real behaviour change.”
The secret is in how you deliver the learning. Goleman’s exhortation to use experiential methods applies here. Use of action methods, such as concretisation, sociodrama and role training is proving to be highly efficient and effective in producing real, lasting and immediate shifts in workplace attitude and behaviour. Such methods engage the whole person in learning: their thinking, their feeling and their behaving. Such methods also facilitate the integration of new learning into the being of the person. Also inherent in such methods, when carried out sensitively, is a dove-tailing of the learning with the person’s own value system. Result: people being authentic and true to themselves while exhibiting behaviours and attitudes which are in line with wider organisational needs.
In the current climate, when businesses are becoming increasingly more careful of how they spend their L&D budgets, it is vital that any investments are well targeted and get best results. This means businesses need to look at both what is getting taught, as well as how this is done with real and lasting impact on people’s performance.