Soft-skills Paper by Akhilesh Jain and Sandeep mehta
NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON “Emerging issues in Business Management” At JAIPUR March 4th and 5th, 2011 THEME: 21st century skills with special reference to “soft skills”.TITLE: “Increasing the employability quotient by equipping with better soft skills” Mr. Akhilesh Jain Dean, Proseed Business School (M) 09352616800 firstname.lastname@example.org Mr. Sandeep Mehta Faculty, Proseed Business School (M) 09829647605 email@example.com“The ability to communicate is the primary factor that distinguishes human beings from animals. And itis the ability to communicate well that distinguishes one individual from another.” In order to developthese habits, one needs to first acknowledge the fact that they need to improve communication skillsfrom time to time. Soft Skills are behavioral competencies. Also known as InterpersonalSkills, or people skills, they include proficiencies such as communication skills, conflict resolution andnegotiation, personal effectiveness, creative problem solving, strategic thinking, team building,influencing skills and selling skills, to name a few. Many significant business researches have identifiedsoft skills as the singular factor in differentiating star performers from mediocre performers. Forexample, a study by Johnson and Burden (2003) found employers expected younger people to be lesslikely to have work experience and therefore they ‘tend to focus upon ‘softer skills’ and behaviouralattitudes in the recruitment process, with a less prominent role played by qualifications’. Employersreport that technical and occupational skills can be taught on-the-job if the recruit has the right softskills, such as motivation and willingness to learn (Dench et al., 1998). Kodz and her colleagues (1998)also find that employers use soft skills as an indicator of peoples’ ability to learn occupational skills.This paper will discuss the various methodologies which can be used to develop better communicationskills and personality for management students. The research focuses on the gap between thecompetencies demanded by corporate world and the skills possessed by young managementprofessionals with ways to increase the employability quotient.
Business is about people. It is about communication, relationships and about presenting yourself, yourcompany and your ideas in the most positive and impactful way. Many business people like to think thatsuccess is based on logical, rational thoughts and acts, but the human element should never be ignored.Which is why a strong soft skills set is vitally important.Today, employers crave managers with the critical soft skills. These skills tend to be more generic innature. In other words, these are skills key to effective performance across all job categories. And thesesoft skills have come to play an even more crucial role in management positions in todays environment.As the world has changed and the nature of work has changed, the skill set required of managers haschanged.Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individuals interactions, job performance and careerprospects. Unlike hard skills, which tend to be specific to a certain type of task or activity, soft skills arebroadly applicable. Soft skills are sometimes broken down into personal attributes, such as: Optimism,common sense, responsibility, a sense of humor, integrity, time-management and motivation. Theinterpersonal abilities also are a part of soft skills which includes: empathy, leadership, communication,good manners, sociability and the ability to teach. Its often said that hard skills will get you an interviewbut you need soft skills to get (and keep) the job“In todays highly competitive employment market, jobs and roles are often described in terms ofcompetencies which are a combination of behaviors that lead to superior performance in a job. The twomajor concerns of employers are finding good workers and training them. The skills-gap, which is thedifference between the skills needed on the job and those possessed by applicants, is of real concern tomanagers and business owners looking to hire competent employees. India currently has 600 millionyouth below 25 years of age of which 320 million are in schools and colleges. Less than 25% of theseare employable due to the skills gap!” - India Employability Skills Survey (2009 - 10) by Seema Menon, Head Assessment, AspireSoft skills training can make the difference between closing the deal and losing it, creating a cohesive,efficient team or a malfunctioning one, getting that promotion or missing out. Great people skills giveyou a competitive edge, helping you to create positive relationships that mean you can get more frompeople, both internally and externally.
Soft skills training encompass a whole range of skills, including assertiveness, influencing andpersuading, negotiating, presenting and public speaking, networking and managing a team. Overall, it isabout gaining a better understanding of the ways people think and behave and presenting yourself andyour ideas in a way that will have the best impact.This type of training is particularly useful for managers, but is relevant for anyone who interacts withother people as part of their job - anyone with customers or clients, anyone who commissions work fromsuppliers and anyone who works as part of a team.For many professions, the importance of soft skills is obvious - for example sales people, those incustomer service, politicians and journalists. For many of the more process driven and technicalprofessions however, such as accounting or IT, soft skills training can often be forgotten or given lessfocus. Even in this type of business, though, employees need to be when managing staff, runningmeetings or simplifying complex ideas or processes for clients.For some people, these skills come naturally, while others need to work harder at them. Somepersonality types are filled with horror at the thought of public speaking and networking with strangers,while others flourish in this type of situation. Some find it difficult to be assertive and a strongnegotiator, others can be too aggressive. Everyone will find that they can benefit from learning newtechniques and obtaining objective advice and feedback.Soft skills training should be tailored to take into account the experience, situation and personality of thedelegates. A pre-course questionnaire can help to establish these things and a good trainer will adapttheir approach accordingly. A successful training session will also get the balance between theory on theone hand and practice and interaction on the other. After all, its all about how you work with people andyou cant learn that just by listening.For decades the focus of management was on the so-called "hard" skills. That is, the emphasis centeredon the technical skills necessary to effectively perform within the organization. These skills tended to bemore job-specific or more closely related to the actual task being performed.Without doubt, for decades the business world placed a great deal of value on traditionally masculinetraits for managers. With the increase in the number of women in the workforce for the past two to threedecades, more attention has been given to the traditionally feminine characteristics. There was then amove to develop the androgynous manager - one who embraced the best of both the traditionallymasculine characteristics and the feminine characteristics. This has evolved today to the recognition ofplacing more importance on the soft skills.
At first considered "soft," some are now referring to these skills as life skills thereby conveying the moreglobal aspect of this skill set. Some researchers have also suggested these skills are really the "hard stuffof management.In the last few years, survey after survey has been conducted in businesses. Employers have been askedthe skills they want to see in their employees. Time after time the results remain consistent. The softskills are in demand. Unfortunately, these are the skills that are in short supply today. Topping the listfor most American businesses are skills such as communication skills, interpersonal skills, team playerskills, ethics, creativity, an ability to value diversity, responsiveness and a willingness to change.Communication SkillsCommunication skills remain a major concern of many employers today. It is criticalevery employee (and most especially managers) be able to communicate both verbally and in writtenform. Management is all. about getting things done through others. Without an ability to effectivelycommunicate, this work cannot be accomplished. Those individuals who are polished in theircommunication skills are also more effective in getting things done. Technology has somewhatcomplicated the communication process for many. While disseminating information faster and to alarger number of people, the advanced technologies have changed the way in which communication isconducted in many organizations. Today with the widespread use of e-mail, the traditional chain ofcommand is often not followed in communication patterns. People skip levels in the chain of commandto communicate directly with those Who have the information they need.In addition, there has been an entirely new set of etiquette rules (referred to as "netiquette") that reflectsthe appropriate way of using these new technologies. Perhaps the greatest challenge to using some of thenew technologies is the loss of the personal touch. Specifically, the nonverbal component is missing.Interpersonal SkillsWith the demise of the command-and-control manager, the importance of interpersonal skills has grown.Managers can no longer rely upon their position of power (or their legitimate authority inherent in theposition they occupy in the organization). With todays teams being utilized more extensively, the toolthat becomes important is the interpersonal skill set (as part of the managers personal power base).Employees must be able to get along with others. And they must be especially skilled in getting alongwith others who are not like them. The team environment further enhances this requirement forinterpersonal skills. Katz recognized these human relations skills as being one of the three keymanagement skills required for success at all organizational levels.
Team PlayersInterpersonal skills are important in helping one become a better team player. Managers walk anespecially thin line. The very people they must cooperate with are also those with whom they compete.That is, managers must be team players and work in cooperation with their peers (as well as theirsubordinates in many cases). And yet these same peers compete for the limited resources of theorganization - financial, physical and human.Being a team player today also means working with a diverse team. And this diversity goes beyonddemographic characteristics. For example, it involves accountants working with marketers, engineers,human resource managers and those from many other functional areas.EthicsEmployers today seek employees who are ethical - who do the right thing. Employers dont want to hireunethical people and then teach them to be ethical. Instead, they want to bring in those who alreadyunderstand ethical behavior. With society placing greater demands on businesses to act more ethicallyand raise their standards of behavior, this can only be achieved through the efforts of each individualemployee. As the behavior of company employees is closely scrutinized, companies need to know theiremployees are making the right choices.CreativityThose employees who are creative will contribute extraordinary efforts to todays organizations and willhelp outline the vision for tomorrows organizations. Companies have learned they can no longerconduct business exactly the way it was con ducted even ten years ago. Todays changing environmentrequires companies to adapt to the current world. This means employing people who "think outside thebox."Rational problem solving is not enough today. Creative problem solving and an ability to identifyopportunities is critical in this dynamic environment. Employees who can "think outside the box" andpresent new solutions to the old problems will be highly valued.Value DiversityA diverse workforce presents wonderful opportunities for companies and for individuals to succeed. Itdoes, however, require that all employees learn to value this diversity and celebrate the differencesamong people. While it is the tendency for people to surround themselves with others who are just likethem, this can be counterproductive. Research has proven heterogeneous groups (as opposed to
homogenous groups) are more creative. This diversity, however, must be valued and the actions ofpeople must reflect this.Truly valuing diversity means treating everyone as an individual with unique needs. For managers, thismeans tailoring rewards to each individual rather than using "one size fits all" rewards. To valuediversity then, the manager must begin by getting out of the office, walking around and really getting toknow others. Only then can the manager begin to appreciate the differences among individuals andbegin to utilize those unique talents to enable each person to contribute to the organization in their ownway.Valuing diversity doesnt just apply to employees. It also means valuing diversity in the organizationscustomer base. Market segmentation is crucial in todays diverse marketplace. Only by understandingthese various markets can the organization be responsive to their diverse customers and their needs.Fast, Agile and ResponsiveOrganizations have been told repeatedly to become fast, agile and responsive to maintain theircompetitive position. Employees today must be likewise. All employees should consider themselves asworking in a boundary-spanning position. That is, it is the responsibility of each employee (managementand non-management alike) to scan the external environment to watch for changes which may impactthe organization. Furthermore, as these changes are monitored and recognized, employees must knowhow to respond. The responses to these changes that must be made within the organization to respondshould be clearly thought out and articulated -- and done so quickly.Taking too much time to respond to these changes in the external environment may very well put theorganization at risk. Time is of the essence and employees must think fast on their feet.The time horizon for reflection and contemplation grows shorter each year.Willingness to ChangeAbove all else, employees must be ready, willing and able to change. No one can remain wed to thepast. This willingness to change means tactfully challenging the status quo. Employees can no longerblindly obey, but rather must question what they do. The heart of process reengineering is to continuallyask if this is the best way to something or if it even needs to be done. Continuous improvement requiresthat each and every employee be willing to change. In addition, employees must take this one stepfurther and be willing to create some of this change. This goes hand-in-hand with the need for creativepeople. Employees must constantly search for that "better mousetrap."
The Complete PackageMany of these soft skills are interdependent. That is, as one skill is developed, one or more of the otherskills are also being developed. The true value to the organization is in having the complete package inas many employees as possible. Self-awareness is critical. All employees are responsible for their owncareer development today. This means every employee must know what they can and cannot do. Acomplete inventory of knowledge, skills and abilities (referred to as KSAs) should be performed on aregular basis. This should then be compared with the KSAs considered critical to success in theworkplace.While many employers feel they can train employees in the technical skills needed to perform the job,there is more concern with the ability to teach the softer skills. Therefore, more companies are seekingjob applicants that already possess these soft skills.Employees of the twenty-first century must be committed to the soft skills. And this commitment doesntbegin the first day on the job. This is a commitment that starts even prior to entry in the workforce andstems from the dedication to become a lifelong learner -- constantly updating and revising skills to bettermeet the needs of the changing marketplace.Activity Based Learning at institutionsInteractive methods of teaching is not a new concept as we cannot overlook the Indian epics likeMahabharta and Ramayana gives numerous examples of Gurukul teaching pedagogies. Dronachararyaalways used to let Kauravas and Pandavas perform to learn. Most of the values and morals were taughtusing metaphors specially stories from the history. There used to be discussion known as Shasthraths,where the disciples also used to put their opinions in front of Gurus. Learning since eras was interestingonly when it was practical and motivating learners to involve them. This not only increased theirconcentration but also was a permanent learning.For learning to be more effective, interesting and engaging the teachers and students need to work incollaboration. Our experience on teaching various management concepts has taught us that studentinteraction and involvement are vital items in the transfer of knowledge from the teacher to the student.Most of the teaching is done in a traditional monologue session, where the teacher does the talking andthe students are passive audience. Little is known to the teacher on the amount of knowledge consumedby the students. Unless the student seriously focuses on the key points delivered during the teaching,there is a definite reason for the knowledge to escape into thin air. In the same context we put ourstudents through the book reviews and movie sessions which focus on delivering management lessonsinterestingly & creatively. The news review session conducted daily aims at keeping the students abreast
with the latest happenings around. This not only enhances their knowledge but also generates interests inthe students to learn more and more.One of the best ways to understand something is to get ones hands on it and actually experiment with it.In electronics, this means putting small circuits together, powering them up, and seeing firsthand whatthey do. We also experienced that when activities were given to the students, their involvement andinterest were substantially observed. Hence, we unanimously felt the need for a change in our mode ofteaching and learning as activity-based teaching provides simple yet dynamic tools for an effectiveclassroom teaching. There are frequent workshops on corporate ethics, table manners, personalitydevelopment, yoga etc to groom the students in every aspect of professional life. Games and othercultural events are organized to bring out the talents of the students. We believe that activity-basedteaching also taps into a source of energy and goodwill that would enable students to innovate andmanage change. Good communication skills are one of the vital aspects of an imposing personality sowe take a good care of it in our general communication skills classes where we provide our students thenecessary competence to interact with others confidently with personalized attention to learn.Akhilesh Jain Sandeep MehtaDean, Proseed Business School Faculty, Proseed Business School(A Unit of Career Point Infosystems Limited) (A Unit of Career Point Infosystems Limited)133, Shakti Nagar, Kota 133, Shakti Nagar, Kota