The secret to an effective soft skills training programme is exactly the same as any training programme: make it engaging. Little learning occurs when a person is bored (or worse, asleep). So anything you can do to make your soft skills training more interesting and entertaining to your learners will greatly improve what they take away from it.
However, that looks a little different in 2021 than it did in years prior, thanks to COVID-19. It will come as no surprise that COVID-19 has forced 94% of L&D professionals to alter their strategy (shifting to digital learning) to accommodate remote work.
This shift has also highlighted how interpersonal skills matter more than ever in the workplace according to some experts. After all, it’s hard to translate water cooler chat into virtual meetings. And since 2 out of 3 L&D professionals expect the impact of the pandemic to be more or less permanent, anything you can do to improve how engaging your soft skills training programme is will benefit you long term.
Engagement is both a metric and a mindset. And you can encourage it and measure it (if your content is good — more on that in a second). Here’s what we’ve found works best for building an effective soft skills training programme. After all, we’ve spent 5 decades helping companies build them (yes, we are that old).
Step 1: Make it relevant
Engagement starts with the topics or soft skills you’re teaching: are they relevant to a learner’s job? Do they actually help them be successful in their role? This may seem like a no brainer — but we see companies get this wrong far more often than they think they do.
That’s because a big part of relevance is timing. Data shows that the more “in time” learning occurs (and the more readily an employee can apply what they learned shortly thereafter), the more they actually retain.
However, topic choices also trip companies up because there are so many valuable soft skills to learn (and your employees simply do not have time to learn all of them).
After 50 years perfecting our approach to soft skills training – and picking up a few awards along the way – we’ve learned a thing or two. Below are the ones we think will be most relevant for companies and their employees in 2021 and beyond (more on these in detail here):
- Adaptability: Adaptability helps your business remain nimble in the face of a changing world.
- Resilience: Resilience is proven to create greater job satisfaction and retention.
- Teamwork/Collaboration: Better collaboration skills help your teams work well together even when they’re distributed.
- Persuasion: Persuasion skills help managers earn buy-in from their teams.
- Creativity: Creativity has a major impact on productivity and engagement.
Step 2: Make access convenient
If your employees can’t easily access their soft skill training, they’ll never use it.
COVID-19 has made access both harder and easier: harder in the sense that classroom-style training is incredibly limited, but easier in the sense that technology makes digital learning easier than ever to implement.
For example, with classroom training, time would inherently have to be set aside to attend it. We are almost certain managers would notice missing faces (almost). But with siloed, remote working it is more difficult to come together as a team and digital training may get lost in the shuffle behind “more important priorities.”
That’s why creating a learning culture is more important than ever. If leadership shows that learning is an important part of their organisation’s success by helping their employees set aside time to do it, it’s more likely to get done.
However, accessibility also has to do with how your soft skills training is delivered too.
For example, let’s say one of your new customer service employees is responding to an email from a customer and isn’t quite sure the best way to respond. If you had a short video in your training programme that walked them through it, they could pull it up there and then to learn to respond to them. Crisis averted, day saved – you’re welcome.
This concept is called “microlearning” and it’s proven to be pretty effective for teaching technical skills. However, while it doesn’t always work with soft skills, there are ways to apply this concept to make learning more timely and engaging to your employees for soft skills too.
For example, by creating resources that help employees learn the technical skills they need, you can incorporate the soft skills you want them to learn alongside them (like the customer service example above). Technical training and soft skills training do not need to be tackled individually, as it turns out, people are capable of learning across different axes all at the same time —who’d have thought it!
Step 3: Use video and consider professional help
Statistically speaking, 75% of your employees prefer video training compared to any other method, maybe because it’s the only kind that permits popcorn consumption. So it’s the medium you’ll want to use to deliver your soft skills training if you want to keep your teams engaged.
However, quality video training (the kind that’s actually engaging) is really expensive to produce on your own: you have to hire a team, rent or buy the equipment, hire the talent, find someone to produce it, edit it… the list goes on.
That leaves you with two options:
- Source pre-built video content: Many studios will have libraries of pre-built content on a wide variety of soft skills (like us for example) that you can buy off the shelf.
- Hire a studio to build bespoke video content for you: Working with a bespoke studio (like us for example) gives you the flexibility of an in house team without all of the overhead.
Both are great options that can help you deliver engaging soft skills training to your employees (it just depends on your budget and needs).
However, the takeaway here, if you want to see real improvements in the overall effectiveness of your soft skills training, is “quality.” Quality content drives engagement more than any other element of your training programme. So make sure any video content you acquire is well done. And no, we’re not talking about leaving it on the barbeque a little longer. Here’s what we mean by “well done.”
Step 4: Be funny and tell stories
Few things are more effective at improving the quality of your content and driving learner engagement than injecting humour into your training. In fact, studies show doing so can increase the amount your employees learn by up to 15%.
However, if you can inject that humour into a story, you’ll see an even further increase in learner engagement and retention. Research suggests that information is 20x more likely to be retained if part of a story.
This is also why considering professional help for creating your content is so important. Combining these two things is tricky to get right because there’s a lot to think about:
- Is the humour you’re using right for your employees?
- Are the stories/scripts relatable/relevant for your employees?
- How much humour should you use?
- How should that humour be delivered?
So whichever route you choose to use in order to get professional help (pre-built or bespoke content), keep in mind that the quality of your content hinges on the answers to these questions.
Soft skill training should be fun!
People are always more excited to do things that they actually want to do. Learning is no different.
The key to creating an effective soft skills training plan is about triggering a voluntary response in your employees to learn. The way to do that is to make your content engaging, convenient, and relevant.
Video Arts have been making soft skills learning more engaging for almost 5 decades. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you do so for your employees. There’s never been a more important time to make learning fun!