Soft skills are the main reason that Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook has risen as high as she has, whilst overtaking her Harvard contemporaries. “She was so good at working with people, you couldn’t help but like her” explained Lant Pritchett her first employer. Today soft skills are said to be worth over 88 billion in gross value to the UK economy each year according to recent soft skills research funded by MacDonald’s. The annual contribution of soft skills is expected to grow steadily over the next five years, to reaching £109 billion by the year 2025. However it is thought that the current soft skills gaps in UK businesses will result in diminished productivity, competitiveness and profitability, if left as they are.

Development Economics reported that:

The annual overall expected loss of production due to expected soft skills deficits is anticipated to amount to just under £8.4 billion per year by 2020…If the current weaknesses in the UK’s soft skills base are not addressed, we face an economic penalty that will impact on sectors, businesses, individuals and society as a whole.”

But what are these elusively termed ‘soft skills’?

“Communication and interpersonal skills along with teamwork, time and self-management, decision making, initiative taking and taking responsibility.”

Soft skills are the traits that characterise the relationships with others, including what underpins effective leadership and management. The skills can link closely with an employee’s approach to life and work, having often been associated with Emotional Intelligence Quotient. Other terms that have been bandied about are “people skills” interpersonal skills” and “social skills”. Hard Skills by contrast are skills that are the minimum professional or technical skills required to be able to operate in a particular workplace.

Soft skills have been often undervalued, with much less training being provided than with hard skills, but the tide is now turning with many companies realising the importance and the increasing dangers of ignoring their soft skills gap. This is partially due to the revelation that soft skills such as communication skills, presentation skills and conflict resolution are the foundations needed to underpin successful leadership, management and customer service development.

So how do we tackle this? Firstly we need to address the current stigma and preconceived ideas about “soft skills” Secondly take action to promote the desired skill set and thirdly invest in training and coaching by nurturing our workforce to enable them to develop a high level of these invaluable skills. Many business and organisations are now championing soft skills and are aiming to change people’s perceptions including, but not limited to: CIPD, Tesco, CBI, Aon, MacDonald’s, Learn Direct, FSB and The Work Foundation, to name but a few. There is nothing ‘soft’ about soft skills when it gains you results.

For many years now we have seen a gradual transition from traditional classroom learning, such as the blackboard, reading materials etc., to more practical ways of learning. The introduction of more sophisticated technology has fuelled this trend. However, arguably the most powerful method of learning is role play, because role playing of workplace situations enables staff to practice applying practical skills and knowledge, before doing so in a real life, customer facing environment.

news role play

What is role play?

Ladousse 1987 identifies role play as:

“the idea of ‘role’ is that of taking part in a specific situation, the idea of ‘play’ is associate with a safe environment and encouraging creativity.”

Role-play as a training technique enhances learning in many crucial ways. It gives Learners an opportunity to respond to ad hoc questions or real life situations and it also allows the opportunity to practice public speaking in an informal, relaxed environment. To be effective, trainers must ensure that scenarios of integrated learning must come from real life work experiences.

Role play can demonstrate that there are actually several solutions to a problem, and debate around this subject will yield creative, rich discussion around practices observed during the role play of work experiences.

Using professional actors

Using professional actors to train staff is the most effective way to prepare for real life scenarios, because professional actors use their voice and body to interpret a message or emotion. (Morry Van Ments, 1999). This in turn impacts on the simulation by evoking real life emotions from the trainee, which heightens the overall learning experience.

Benefits of role play for training

Role play enhances the learning experience and therefore employee performance by:

  • Facilitating practice of different types of behaviour
  • Providing an outlet to discuss issues and reservations
  • Portray real life group interaction
  • Brings academia to life
  • Accelerates the feedback process
  • Enabling hidden feelings to be expressed
  • Improves motivation because of the active nature of role play
  • Facilitates training where emotions and feelings can be managed

Role play is particularly important for customer facing activities such as healthcare, sales, customer service and therapy. One on one customer interaction means that the service provider has only one chance to deliver the right message in the right way. Therefore using role play as part of the training process is absolutely essential, if the service provider is to deliver this successfully. />

With the challenging economic environment that has, and continues to face the UK, investing in management and leadership has never been so important as global competition is becoming increasingly stiff, and effective leaders are essential to ensure the UK’s economic recovery and a strong place in the future international marketplace.

Economic Uncertainty

management chess

The UK has experienced economic uncertainty for a number of years now, and this uncertainty shows no sign of diminishing.
This has impacted investment in management and leadership as organisations have seen reductions in headcount, redundancies, rationalisation, and a ‘reduction’ of departments and the closure/rationalisation of training facilities. However investing in strong management and unwavering leadership is the only way that organisations can weather these difficult economic conditions. Indeed:

“Organisations that adopt high performance working practices which are underpinned by high quality people management can expect to receive a 20% increase in productivity and profitability.”

‘Lack of Management Training stalls business growth,’ July 11th 2013.

Increasing Global Competition

The UK is operating in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, which makes the need for great leaders and managers more important than ever. A survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management has identified that UK businesses are failing to capitalise on internal talent, with poor skill levels having a negative impact on 93% of UK businesses.

This survey also identified that 47% of UK businesses felt a current lack of internal staff capability to move up in the organisation was halting the supply of effective leaders and managers through their businesses, and 43% of organisations said they had no form of talent plan at all.

Charles Elvin, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management says:

“Now more than ever, businesses should be investing in leadership and management development at all levels to ensure strong business performance and effectiveness.”

He adds:

“The clear link between management and leadership capability and productivity means that organisations should be fully focused on developing managers not just for their current role, but for the future of their organisation. The UK needs to address the current shortage of management and leadership skills revealed in this survey in order to compete on the international stage.”

How to Improve Management and Leadership in the UK

The CIPD annual survey report of learning and talent development identifies that the most effective methods of cultivating learning and talent development is on-the-job training, in-house development programmes, coaching by line managers and instructor-led training delivered off the job.

Organisations need to make these investments in management and leadership to ensure their future success in the international marketplace.

There is no doubt that the economy is facing one of its toughest challenges to date, which means that many companies are cutting back on their Learning and Development budgets. However it is during these times that there should be more focus on employee development, because with the right sort of training, return on investment will be lucrative.  Put simply, professional training empowers employees and ultimately leads to increased revenue.

Why use a professional training company?

The American Management (AMA) survey published in 2011 noted that executives believe that traditional knowledge and skills i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic are no longer sufficient for workers. The survey results identified that future success is dependent on four key skills: critical thinking and problem-solving; communication skills; collaboration skills; creativity and innovation skills.

Therefore companies need to invest in professional training to ensure that their workforce has these skills.

The benefits of professional training are three fold; it is beneficial to employees, employers, and the company.

Employee Benefits

Professional training increases employee productivity as training helps employees perform more tasks in less time.

Professional training enhances job satisfaction because training ensures that personnel are confident that they can perform the tasks assigned to them.

Employer Benefits

Professional training makes the process of internal HR management and recruitmentquicker, because trained employees are more likely to fit the profile of internal job openings.

Professional training reduces overheads because it decreases the need for employee supervision.

Company Benefits

Professional training increases customers because satisfied customers are a result ofwell-trained staff. Customers are also more likely to recommend a company if they have a positive encounter, therefore training enhances the chance of this.

Professional training yields professional employees who are more likely to persuadecustomers to accept deals, thus increasing company earnings.

Professional training decreases employee turnover because staff are given the tools to carry out their job well, and are therefore more satisfied and more likely to stay with the company.

One high profile company who understand the organisational need for professional training is Deloitte, who have invested $300 million in a university to deliver leadership development.

Diana O’Brien principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and managing principal, Deloitte University says of this investment:

“We recognize that funding talent programs in today’s economy has been challenging for many organizations, but as a professional services firm, we offer our clients one product: the talent and expertise of our people. If we didn’t invest in the development of our professionals, it would be akin to a manufacturer not upgrading equipment, yet still expecting improved productivity.”

Therefore the benefit of professional training investment, far outweighs the cost.

Employee communication is paramount to an engaged workforce. An engaged workforce is paramount for a committed and successful workforce. Communication is the way to achieve this as communication determines how people think, feel or act, therefore leaders need to consider how they want staff to think feel and act, before communicating.

business communication

A 2011 CIPD employee outlook survey discovered that less than half of respondents felt either “fully” or “fairly well” informed about what was going on in their organisations. Think this doesn’t apply to you and that you do communicate well? Read on and find out.

Listen – The true art of communication is to listen. This means being proactive to find out what people think and not assuming that you already know. People who listen first are more likely to be listened to when they do eventually speak.

Say in one word, not five – People are busier than ever. Fact. They simply do not have time to labour at length over organisational matters. Therefore say what you want to say in one word and not five. Stick to ‘headlines’ and ‘newsworthy’ information and grab their attention.

Say it, and say it again – Information retention is difficult in this fast paced world, therefore make it easy for people to remember what you want to communicate by saying what you want to say, and then saying it again and again until the message is heard.

Face-to-face – Employees value face-to-face communication, more than any other type of communication. Therefore to be heard loud and clear, say what you want to say directly.

Two-way communication – CIPD has identified the three main drivers of employee engagement: opportunity to feed views upwards; feeling well informed about organisational changes; and believing your manager is committed to the organisation. Therefore two-way communication is essential.

You said, we did – Two way communication is only effective if you act on employee requests. In fact the more you act on feedback, the more feedback people will be willing to give you. Therefore act on feedback and tell people that you have done so.

Measure your results – How do you know if you are communicating well? How do you know if new measures are working to improve communication? It is crucial to measure results to determine this, therefore employee engagement surveys, focus groups and measuring hits to your intranet and internet are all crucial methods to measure communication success.

The premise of interactive training is that adult learning improves if they are directly involved and active during the educational process. This is because adults retain information the most when proactively working on their own problem solving strategies by carrying out practical exercises, facilitated by the trainer.

There are three main reasons that interactive training is more effective than traditional training: improved learning, motivation and reduced resistance to change.

Brain-image

What is Interactive Training?

Interactive training is also known as experiential training. It is the process of learning via a variety of interactive activities so that ‘trainees’ are personally challenged, active and engaged in the learning process. Activities which immerse the participants in a “total” learning experience include problem-solving exercises, role-plays, simulations, visualizations, storytelling, discussions, reflection in groups and team games.
Interactive training can also mean audio and video as this presentation enables better absorption of information.

Improved Learning

The ‘Multiple Intelligences Theory’ was developed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983. This theory lists the following seven ways (“intelligences”) that people learn:
Linguistic – The ability to use spoken or written words.
Logical-Mathematical – Inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning abilities, logic, as well as the use of numbers and abstract pattern recognition.
Visual-Spatial – The ability to mentally visualize objects and spatial dimensions.
Kinesthetic – The ability to learn through physical experience and controlling physical motion i.e. Somatic, through “doing” it enhances learning experience.
Musical – The ability to master music as well as sounds, thus learning through auditory listening and talking aloud.
Interpersonal – The ability to communicate effectively with other people and to be able to develop relationships.
Intrapersonal – The ability to understand one’s own motivations, emotions, self-discovery and self-reflection.
(Source: www.learning-theories.com)
Therefore interactive training greatly improves learning and retention by appealing to different senses i.e. the seven different ways that people learn.
Improved Motivation
Interactive training empowers ‘trainees’ and their motivation improves. People learn in different ways and use different senses to receive information. Therefore presenting information in different ways, using a variety of methods ensures that the needs of all trainees are met.

Reduces Resistance to Change

Trainees who learn in the context of their current job, via a dynamic learning situation become intimately involved in skills that are necessary to respond to the changing requirements of their current job. Similarly, research shows that the emotions aroused, not the personal significance of the event, which makes events easier to remember. (www.memory-key.com)
Interactive trainers optimise learning opportunities by challenging participants, reinforcing involvement and inspiring enthusiasm, at the same time as providing feedback. This integrates the learning objectives (i.e. the required change), into the participants’ learning and realises synergy and shared ownership of business goals, thus reducing resistance to change.>

coaching culture

In this article we are going to take a look the benefits of developing a coaching culture. According to a survey by the Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) 2013, 80 per cent of organisations had used or are using coaching. A further nine per cent are planning to in the future. A staggering two-thirds of CEOs do not receive outside leadership advice, but nearly all want it (2013 Executive Coaching Survey with The Miles Group). With so many organisations putting coaching at the heart of their organisation.

There are many different methods of coaching an organisation. The most popular is GROW (Goal, Current Reality, Options, Will designed by Sir John Whitmore) and the more future-focussed STAR model (Situation, Target, Action, Result, by Marsha Sanders). The common theme linking each model is that different people have different motivators and communication styles, and coaching styles must incorporate this.

Develop a coaching culture in an organisation, yields many benefits. According to Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) 2013, 95 per cent of people surveyed saw direct benefits to the organisation as a result of coaching, and 96 per cent saw benefits to the individual.

Benefits of a coaching culture to organisations

Organisations cite the main reasons for providing coaching are to encourage career progression, responding to the development needs of the individual or organisation, improving self-awareness, increasing confidence, improving business knowledge and skills in specific areas.

Coaching addresses personal skills and development, business and work skills, however more organisations use coaching for personal development (53 per cent) than for improving specific areas of organisational performance 26 per cent, (ILM creating a coaching culture 2013).

Benefits to individuals

A coaching culture also benefits individuals by improving communication and interpersonal skills, leadership and management, conflict resolution, personal confidence, attitudes and motivation, management performance as well as preparation for a new role or promotion.

Measuring coaching benefits

Measuring and evaluating coaching benefits is essential to ensure the culture is embedded in an organisation. Seventy per cent of organisations use their internal appraisal system, 40 per cent use 360 degree appraisal, only two-fifths undertake “specific evaluation of coaching interventions” and only 49 per cent assess against business KPIs and goals (ILM creating a coaching culture 2013).

The spotlight on a coaching culture will only increase as organisations face increasing global competition, intensifying the need for a skilled and competent workforce capable of weathering this competition.r />

The days of salesmen in suits using their charm offensive to sweeten a big-money deal are long gone.  The digital era means that consumers have more buying power than ever, and suppliers have to get marketing-savvy.  The most powerful marketing channel available to them?  Online video.  How can suppliers make the most of online video opportunities and maximise sales?  Use a professional presenter or coach your staff to do the talking.

presenting on film

Video content is the future

In five years time, you are more likely to be watching this article than reading it. According to Cisco, by 2017 video will account for 69 per cent of all consumer internet traffic. According to the Guardian (July, 2014), 64 per cent of marketers expect video to dominate their strategies in the near future, YouTube receives more than one billion unique visitors every month and one in three Britons view at least one online video a week, equal to a weekly audience of more than 20 million people in the UK alone.

Video content generates more sales

The proof is in the bottom line, and statistics from digitalsherpa.com clearly show that using online videos dramatically increases the chance of making a sale:

After visiting a video advert, 12 per cent of viewers purchase the specific product featured in the ad

Website visitors are 64 per cent more likely to buy a product on an online retail site after watching a video

Real estate listings with videos receive 403 per cent more inquiries than those without videos

Professional or in-house presenter?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, therefore it pays to invest in coaching for your staff before filming or to hire a professional presenter for your online content. Product demo’s, adverts or generic voiceovers need to instil confidence in their audience, and deliver the marketing message in an intriguing, captivating and powerful way.

There is no quicker way to lose a sale than for a customer’s first contact with a product or service to be with a presenter who is unsure of themselves, stumbles over words, uses ‘erm,’ or ‘like’ as ‘fillers’ and body language that is awkward and projects ambiguity.

Professional presenters spend years honing their presenting skills so that they use verbal communication, body language and nuances which really embody this message. They are also experts in understanding their audience and using their skills to appeal directly to them.This style is perfect for slick and professional finish of an advert.

Organisations may want to convey the ‘face’ of their company or the personal nature of their approach. If so, coaching existing executives or staff members is the perfect way to achieve both authenticity with a professional finish.

Another good example of where coaching is preferable is for technology product demo’s. These require the expertise of a true technology expert, as using a professional actor would be completely unconvincing especially for fellow tech-savvy consumers.

The camera captures everything! Thankfully, coaching will provide onscreen skills, remove distracting habits, teach staff to be relaxed in front of the camera and make nerves invisible.

Whether your company is large or small, investing in professional online video presenters for your online content will undoubtedly yield positive returns. If you’re unsure whether to coach your staff or use professional presenters, the decision will depend upon the format and film structure. Therefore seek advice from the video production company/ third party that you are working with to create your video.

Have you ever met a successful entrepreneur with poor presentation skills? No! Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg all deliver empowering, poignant and memorable presentations to their audience, leaving them feeling inspired and valued.  The power of an effective presentation is priceless for several reasons.

lady applauding

The fruits of delivering effective presentations can be enjoyed in any kind of organisation, regardless of the product or service on offer. Managing the presentation properly promotes successful relationships with stakeholders and staff which ultimately translate to growth and success.

Effective presentations can yield the following results:

Builds stronger relationships

People buy people therefore staff need to talk in a strong and confident way to promote honesty, integrity and confidence. The client will perceive the business to be positive and genuine, which in turn will lead to long, fruitful relationships between supplier and client.

Motivate your workforce

Empowering staff to be inspired when talking about their work gives them confidence and motivates the workforce. Motivated staff equal a successful organisation. In fact the CIPD identify that these positive relationships are evidenced with:

“profit, revenue growth, customer satisfaction, productivity, innovation, staff retention, efficiency and health and safety performance.”

Promote a successful culture

Effective presentations in organisations make collaboration strong because of the culture of ‘shared best practise.’ Indeed Careercast.com cite:

“The age of pitting one star performer against another is over, as today collaboration and cooperation rule. In the cutthroat environment of a down economy, who needs internal one-upmanship?”

‘Presenters’ set a clear direction and constantly reinforce it, involving people at all levels in the decision making process, because it encourages ownership of the results.

Leave a lasting impression

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, leaving a lasting impression on a colleague or client has never been more important. The best way to do this? Ensure that you deliver a powerful presentation. Strong presentation performances will leave a longer, lasting impression on the individual receiving the presentation.

Increases productivity

Finally, leaving a lasting impression with a client by delivering a strong presentation means that they will remember you in the long term. This makes the client more likely to pick up the phone and call you when they need your product or service. The result? Increased sales, increased profit and an improved bottom line.

I would like to leave you with a final quote from the self-made billionaire Warren Buffett from a recent interview with Levo:

You have to get out there and do it…if you can’t communicate and talk to other people… you’re giving up your potential

customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction levels are at their lowest since 2010 according to the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) – and is it any wonder given we are in an age where social media and digital technology means that we can publically comment on any product or service, anytime.

The Institute of Customer Service describes customer service as:
“Customer service excellence means many things to many people and is something often noticed more by its absence than its presence.”

So is anyone getting it right? According to online guru ‘Which’, John Lewis, and Waitrose consistently are rated for their good customer service, and they give reasons such as the helpfulness of staff and resolving complaints or problems and access to customer support – the common theme between all of these indicators being contact between the customer and the organisations employees.

Public sector versus private sector

Customer satisfaction levels have always been associated with success or failure in the private sector. However in the age of increasing accountability, newspaper headlines and financial pressures, public sector organisations are realising that looking after customers is essential to long term survival.
Given that the public sector is, collectively, the world’s largest service provider – improvements in their services will positively impact the lives of millions of people.

How you can influence customer satisfaction levels

The government’s Spending Review advises ‘putting users at the heart of service design’, yet according to the largest research centre in the (UK Ipsos MORI), 71 per cent of consumers don’t believe that this is happening as:

“companies are lacking the human touch when it comes to dealing with their customers”.

So building trust by’ using the human touch is the best way to influence customer satisfaction levels – and organisations should coach their colleagues to use the right communication skills to achieve this.
Individuals should learn how to create a connection with their customers by using an informal, caring tone.
Many public sector industries such as the housing sector are already starting to adopt this approach, making customers feel important by personalising communication, making them feel part of the ‘in’ crowd, asking them for advice, apologising and listening.
There are plenty of case studies available online (Lambeth Council’s Housing Reframing Project and the Aragon Housing Association) which demonstrate that coaching your staff in the art of communication leads to a huge improvement in customer satisfaction levels.