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4 Things Employers Need to Know for Growing “Soft” Skills

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*Originally published in BenefitsPro

As hiring and retention continue to shift and evolve, traditional job skills feel as outdated as a floppy disk. Employers are no longer solely fishing for candidates with degrees from revered institutions. They’re looking to hook folks who possess so-called “soft skills,” knowing these are oftentimes harder to learn and apply than the tactical/technical ones. As workplaces are still testing new ways of working, emotional intelligence, empathetic communication, and adaptive problem-solving – are now the need-to-have building blocks of a thriving and adaptable workforce. 

SHRM found that 77% of organizations have placed a premium on hiring for these skills to cater to the multifaceted needs of today’s labor force. Microsoft’s CEO said empathy is far from a mere soft skill; it’s the “most formidable skill of them all (Yahoo Finance).” As we wade through the sea of change, the mandate for businesses becomes crystal clear: fostering an environment that nurtures and cultivates these invaluable soft skills is the answer to sustainable hiring and retention.  


For soft skills to grow, here are 4 things employers need to give their employees:

1. Alignment: What’s in it for Me? What’s in it for All?

It’s not just about the company having a higher purpose; it’s every single person within the organization being able to identify their higher purpose and finding alignment between their individual purpose and the organization’s greater mission. Playing to each person’s strengths and mapping them to their goals and needs brings autonomy and freedom. Alignment doesn’t just apply within the confines of the organization. It can be applied to everyday operations as well. For example, navigating remote, hybrid, in-person, or a 4-day work week. Some of these may not work for all, but they might be a good fit for those with a need for greater flexibility. Testing these work models, explaining the why behind them, and knowing that responsibilities can be fulfilled — regardless of when and where work gets done — can then work for all.  

Airbnb is a great example of this because every aspect of the company, from hiring to writing emails, is done in alignment with the company’s values and purpose. They aim to “create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.”  For a company to live out its purpose, it’s clear to everyone in the organization that there’s something in it for them that ladders up to a benefit for all. 

2. Belonging: Freedom to Dance 

True belonging happens when everyone feels welcomed, trust is high, and there is freedom to be curious, courageous, and bold without judgment. Embracing tensions and having real-talk about difficult topics because we’ll never really get to the best ways to work and the best solutions without a sense of belonging. 

As we’ve seen, belonging can’t happen without diversity. What needs to happen first is communicating what you mean when using these words. A memorable way to think of it: diversity is being asked to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance, equity is having your turn to play the music, and belonging is dancing any way you want. By defining these terms, you’re able to actually implement things in a more intentional way, building a plan to test new things for a better outcome. 

We can look to Simone Biles’ choice at the 2020 Summer Games as proof. Experiencing extreme pressure, she said ‘no’ in order to protect her body and mind. But instead of wallowing in her hotel room or taking the first flight back home, she shifted her role to fulfill something else that her team needed. What this teaches us about belonging is that we can flow, shift, and dance however we want as we recognize and respect each other.   

3. Accountability: Individual + Shared Ownership

Leaders are responsible for taking care of people, and people are responsible for getting the job done. Knowing that mistakes will happen, we can reframe by instilling values to learn and grow from them. When everyone in the organization “walks the talk” by getting rewarded and recognized for living these values, talk becomes actionable because everyone will do what they say. 

For decades, sustainability has been a core value at Patagonia, but in 2022, they put their money (rather, their stock) where their mouth was. Instead of “going public,” Patagonia chose “going purpose” by transferring 100% of the company’s voting and nonvoting stock to protect its values and fight the environmental crisis. Going forward, any profits not reinvested in the company are put towards protecting the planet, ensuring Patagonia employees are secure, and the organization’s values stay intact while making its purpose, the Earth, a shareholder.   

4. Commitment: Investment in Long-Term Growth, Not Short-Term Gains

Successful teams are those who share a commitment to each other at every level, including the individual (ME), the organization (WE), and the collective long-term goals. Trust is high, and each person’s individual senses and skills are leveraged to discover innovations, solutions are found, and work is accomplished in the most effective, efficient ways. Companies that double down on their people are actually outperforming all the others in the S&P 500 (source), even in economic downturns. 

Northwell Health, New York’s largest health care provider, understands people are assets and not a line on expense in the budget. At the pandemic’s epicenter, their workplace became a warzone; the employees were literally facing life and death each day. However, in this time of great uncertainty and chaos, Northwell went from number 93 to number 19 on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work list across all industries. Northwell was committed to the idea “patients first” and accomplished this by prioritizing their employees. 

When things started to hit the fan, Northwell’s CEO, with a commitment to his teams, insisted on walking the halls, being with his people, and letting them know that they were all in this together. They created tents for their employees to get nourished and hydrated. They provided therapists and specialists to meet the needs in this high-anxiety and stressful situation. Northwell prioritized people and culture to go beyond happiness in the most volatile conditions, based on the commitment they made years before a pandemic tested their will to live their purpose.

Elevate your team's potential with skills that go beyond the ordinary.  Learn how to nurture these soft skills with our Greenhouse Method Sessions.