For Learning Professionals, Soft Skills Give the Hard Skills Meaning

senior woman leading business meeting

I’ve talked in the past about how soft skills are the hard skills.

I’ve also discussed why soft skills are no more difficult to measure than hard skills.

Today, I’m going to approach this topic from a slightly new angle. I recently watched a video of a gentleman discussing the importance of soft skills among learning professionals. He used an apt illustration. He said we should view our skill set shaped as a capital T. The broad horizontal stroke represents the soft skills which we use to communicate with others outside of our profession or department. The long vertical stroke represents our “deep” knowledge. This is our domain expertise. It’s the professional training and years of experience that allow us to claim the title of “learning professional.” I like his analogy and I want to explain why it matters.

As Learning Professionals, Soft Skills Help Us Work with the Other Lines of Business

As part of our domain of expertise, we have soft skills. For learning professionals, soft skills include the ability to communicate, collaborate, and lead. Our soft skills help us connect with our business unit colleagues. We use them to communicate across the organization using language that aligns with business needs. For learning professionals, the most important business language we use includes the terms employee capability and metrics. Learning programs create employee capability and employee capability determines the level of key performance metrics.

Metrics are the measures businesses take to gauge their success. They’re used because it makes it easy to see progress over time, and they mark growth and improvement. Metrics measure the health of a department, group, or unit. Added together, they also measure the overall health of a business. Communicating learning results in terms of capability changes and their corresponding metric changes is how we align learning outcomes and business needs.

Our communication skills come to the forefront when we explain to other business units what we do. Rather than using “training”  language (courses, objectives etc), we meet them where they are. It’s on us to educate our partners in the simplest but clearest terms possible how L&D teams contribute to business success. When Learning Professionals can identify the competencies they add to employees, and the metrics that change when behavior changes, we speak the language business professionals understand. When we describe learning outcomes in terms of ROI, our partners see more clearly our value.

For Learning Professionals, Soft Skills Help Telegraph Our Expertise

As important as our instructional design expertise, our ability to communicate with other company leaders and C-Suite executives is needed. Our communication with company managers and leaders is vital to inform them on how the outcomes from learning address their performance needs. It is up to us to calibrate our outcomes with business needs and clarify the barometers for our success. As an L&D professional, you know that learning is central to business success. Professional development provides the only path to improving performance and increasing capability. We must educate our business partners about what we do to solve their performance issues. If we fail to educate them, we fail in our mission to raise our professional profile. If we fail to educate them, they mistake our outputs as tactical, and not critical to company success.

Every other department—finance, sales, marketing, production—shows real results for their efforts. They quantify their work to show bottom line value. If we fail to do the same, the divide between us and other groups only grows. Without showing quantified value, the business feels no obligation to support the L&D function. That failure puts L&D in a precarious situation during every budget process and every economic downturn. It’s incumbent on us to effectively telegraph our expertise to the business leaders in language they understand.

What do you think? Do you believe that for learning professionals, soft skills make your professional training more valuable? When you speak the language of business to your colleagues, how effective are your soft skills? Contact us here at eParamus. We can help you learn how to craft effective, measurable learning programs and speak the language of business.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to discuss the learning challenges you face.

Photo copyright: Cathy Yeulet / 123RF Stock Photo

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