Jan Rijken, an expert in talent and learning and former CLO at KPMG and Daimler, shares his vision of what makes soft skills development happen in organisations. Discover some of the key enablers and essential design principles of a good learning program and how L&D can deliver on business expectations as a strategic performance partner.
Soft skills development: facing new challenges
Within the current context of economic turbulence and globalization, business models and labor relationships are changing. At the same time, technology is influencing our workforce capabilities, leading to new jobs and new skills. All these factors have an impact on employability: preparing employees for their future. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs Report in 2022 more than 54% of employees will need substantial reskilling. As a result, companies need to profile their L&D skills development more professionally to ensure they are preparing their workforce for the roles and tasks of tomorrow.
Current dynamics of L&D
According to Jan Rijken, the number one reason why people leave a company is lack of career development opportunities. Increasingly younger generations seek personal growth and an increased sense of purpose from their jobs. In relation to this, they want more accountability for their personal development and this implies that the approach to organizational L&D is rapidly changing. Examples for this shift are:
- the trend within companies to move from a push to a more self-direct learning approach
- offer learning opportunities anywhere, anytime, any device in mobile modes
- a new L&D focus on both content and context of learning to ensure embedding of the learning interventions and investments.
However, with these new dynamics come new challenges for CLOs whose number one priority is to provide relevant soft skills training to their staff. According to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning research, 75% of long-term job success depends on mastering and developing soft skills. The report states that therefore the nr. 1 priority for Talent Development in 2019 is soft skills development. But only 1 in 4 organizations reports employee satisfaction with the soft skills offered.
With that in mind, L&D leaders have to meet the demand for ever-increasing efficiency and company expectations in terms of impact, while pushing for consistency in the learning offering and aligning with stakeholders to support the skills-acquisition agenda. Sounds like a tall order? Let’s look at some practical tips L&D can use to implement an effective skills development program.
Key enablers for soft skills development
Before addressing the design principles for soft skills development it is important to recognize that the underlying L&D foundation has to be strong. Too often L&D departments try to move by themselves without much buy-in and support from other senior stakeholders. This creates a situation in which they are disconnected from the overall company strategy and performance objectives. Here are five key enablers that L&D needs to implement to ensure a strong link to their organizational ambition and make soft skills acquisition happen:
- Define a clear L&D mission statement and strategy
- Set up a solid L&D governance, with an L&D steering committee that involves COOs from each business unit & the CHRO, that validate the L&D strategy, determine strategic learning priorities and arrange relevant funding. The senior leaders in this steering committee need to support prioritization of soft skills training
- Conduct a performance needs analysis to identify capability needs at organization and individual levels, including soft skills gaps
- Professionalize L&D marketing and communication to ensure you reach every target group in a structured way
- Start every major learning initiative by defining the desired metrics & KPIs, measure the relevant KPIs during & after the learning intervention and report on outcomes via focused and structured reporting. Bellevue University has identified strong metrics as one of the key enablers for making the business case for soft skills
Who’s responsible for soft skills development: 3 key actors
To create the condition for soft skills development, three key actors need to work together very closely: the Learner, the Line-Manager and L&D. Soft skills development cannot happen without the three actors aligning their efforts continuously.
Each actor’s expectations and responsibilities need to be considered. For example, learners need to know which soft skills they are required to develop, while managers need to be able to create a supportive learning environment and support workplace learning. Finally, L&D is expected to design and curate the learning offer so that employees can do soft skills acquisition just in time and just enough. In addition to the three actors collaborating it is essential that learning initiatives, like soft skills development, are aligned with the existing performance cycle in organizations.
The design principles
When shaping learning solutions, L&D should always keep the bigger picture in mind by asking themselves what performance will be improved. If content does not clearly enhance company or individual performance in some way, it probably needs to be redesigned. In addition L&D needs to strive for impact, efficiency and engagement, best achieved by implementing a blended learning approach that is formal, social and experiential. Here’s a few additional questions to challenge yourself when designing learning content:
- Is the learning solution performance-based? Do you have clear KPIs?
- Is it just-in-time & just-enough for the learners? Is your solution accessible 24/7?
- Are you leveraging available learning technology to boost learning?
- Have you tested-piloted and adapted the learning solution?
- Can employees earn badges or accreditation to track their progress?
- Can learned content be applied to the workplace?
Soft skills need an integrated approach as nothing works in isolation and each solutions initiative needs careful design. When an integrated design approach for blended soft skills development is used, the benefits will follow. Moreover, investing in blended soft skills development has been proven to bring benefits on three levels. On a company level, it increases turnover and attracts new joiners. On an employee level, it enhances motivation, confidence and competence and in terms of L&D, it reduces time to competence and enables higher effectiveness in role. A win-win situation for all parties involved.
Soft skills development and acquisition is a major key to company performance, but CLOs need to shape and market their learning offer differently and in addition act as a role model to lead the way in the company. To achieve this, they need to think Performance in everything action they take. L&D can enable soft skills development through strategy, governance, technology, a blended skills development offer, and marketing. By setting the right objectives and reporting on learning outcomes, CLO’s will be able to convince senior business leaders they are making the right and necessary investments to ensure key skills capabilities in their organization.
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