As a small business owner, have you ever decided not to hire a job applicant who had the knowledge and abilities (hard skills) you needed, but struggled to communicate effectively (soft skills)? You’re not alone. More than 90 percent of businesses rate soft skills as a critical priority when hiring new team members.
Historically, businesses have expected prospective employees to have good hard and soft skills. But today’s workforce is different. Younger people who are joining the workforce admit they need to work on their interpersonal and written communication skills. And they’re hoping employers will help them. Since 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 will be composed of younger employees, employers need to step up to provide communications training. Here are four ways to use online training to help improve employees become better communicators:
1. Develop a list of needed competencies
Make a list of the communication skills employees need to develop, or special abilities required to fulfill job responsibilities. Here’s an overview of skills employees may need:
- Written skills: Essential for frequent communications with co-workers and customers via email or a chatbot.
- Teach employees how to address people appropriately, remembering not to be overfamiliar with individuals they don’t know well.
- Clearly explain the reason for the communication upfront, so recipients understand the purpose of the message.
- Identify a follow-up plan, e.g., phone call, personal meeting
- Public speaking skills: Critical for sales presentations or one-on-one meetings with customers.
- Give tips on eye contact, sharing the message in simple terms and practice speaking in a mirror.
- For employees who make regular presentations, offer time off to participate in a speaking group, such as Toastmasters.
- Oral communications skills: Necessary for sharing ideas with colleagues or discussing products with customers.
- Prepare ideas to share before the meeting.
- Take notes during the meeting to remember discussion points and any items requiring follow up.
- Interpersonal skills: Vital for cohesive teamwork on projects and daily interactions with other employees.
- Teach employees good listening skills so they can connect effectively with team members and customers.
- Nonverbal cues: Employees who understand body language can significantly improve their relationships with customers and co-workers. Research shows that 7 percent of a message is communicated through words, 38 percent in vocal elements, and 55 percent via nonverbal elements. Share these points:
- Keep an open position (avoid folding hands) throughout the conversation.
- Maintain good eye contact.
- Use hand gestures to support comments but keep them simple and to a minimum.
- Watch tone of voice to prevent listeners from misunderstanding messages.
2. Set up online training
Create interesting training modules using an online training software system. Think of fun ways to share tips to help employees become better communicators in PowerPoint presentations. Tape employees in role-play situations showing poor vs. good communication skills in everyday business and customer situations. Incorporate online videos into content. There are many YouTube videos that teach these skills. Add in interesting photos with content to capture employees’ attention. Regularly create new modules teaching communication skills for different situations and interactions with people. (Learn tips on finding the right online training software.)
Remember to keep the training modules short, with each focused on one topic (a concept called microlearning). Younger employees are used to watching concise instructional videos online (less than 10 minutes long).
3. Connect employees
Set up younger workers with seasoned workers with good communicators to work together on team projects. Set up team-building exercises to strengthen connections. Older team members can become mentors to model and teach younger employees how to share ideas and concepts more effectively.
4. Catch employees doing the right thing
Set up entertaining quizzes in the online training modules to ensure employees are learning the right communication skills. Also, throughout the day catch workers demonstrating good communications. Share customer compliments about employees’ good communications. Reward and recognize employees for their online and personal successes.