Editor's note: The following is a contributed piece by Emily Foote, vice president of customer engagement at Bridge, a performance management software and learning management system provider.
Growth opportunities are the new backbone of benefits in today’s labor market. Millennials especially are looking for employers to afford them ways in which to grow their careers and become experts with skills that fill much-needed gaps in the workplace.
As software and technology continuously evolve, the demand for experts in leadership, cooperation, management and communication remain constant. More than ever, leadership today calls for skills managers can’t quite teach their employees — like empathy and critical thinking. The right manager-to-employee engagement will foster workplace trust and ultimately, employee retention.
"Soft skills" development is critical to collaboration and company culture. In fact, soft skills are the number one priority in today's labor market. However, cultivating these skills presents its own unique challenges and requires an organization to build trust among its workforce. These skills can’t be expected to be learned in a day, and building this cultivation into everyday communication and tasks in the office is the best way to ensure growth and learning on a constant basis. Until managers are able to appropriately and successfully engage with their employees, we’re not going to see skills like analytical thinking, communication, empathy or leadership stick.
Surveys are more than just data points
Companies today often fall short of building a culture of trust and continuous communication, because they rely too heavily on surveys and other top-down tactics for feedback. The company survey has turned into an event that merely focuses on "moving the needle" on a rating or a number. Employees can lose sight of the purpose of these efforts, which is to focus on the people in the organization and the actions to manage them more effectively. Seventy percent of companies collect employee engagement data, but only 20% turn it into visible actions. The effect of data science and user behavior is more relevant than the survey itself, so employers should make a point to create action items from the data they collect. Communicate the data effectively, and allow all employees in on the results. Begin a culture of transparency to encourage flat communication among all levels.
Software and soft skills are not in conflict
Software can empower an employee to become a driver in a company’s journey, rather than just a passenger. Use software to provide feedback and engage employees on all levels — from learning, to trying and failing, to giving and receiving constructive criticism, to success. Using software as a vehicle not only for personal growth in the hard-skills but also as a tool to practice communication, cooperation, management and leadership allows for soft skill growth through everyday tasks.
Build communication into culture
Developing a culture of meaningful feedback and learning throughout an organization allows for criticism and praise to flow more freely. Employees will be more apt to give feedback and will take the feedback they receive in stride if receiving remarks on a task or project is not an anomaly. Leaders need to ask for feedback and then prove its use by changing their behavior accordingly. Showing employees the courage to receive negative feedback encourages that behavior down the ladder, too. On the flip side, employees need to hold leaders accountable to practice and promote a communicative, transparent culture of feedback as well.
Learning and relearning soft skills like leadership and empathy will not only retain employees, but this cultivation will also increase revenue for the entire company. Factoring in this engagement to the company’s culture will enhance the workplace experience and create professional development opportunities for employee growth.