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How SMEs can use soft skills to transform business

Yellow Pages CEO Pedro Gomes [File, Standard]

Businesses exist to provide access to products and services for people and other businesses, but their existence is pegged on people. Entrepreneurs are people, their staff are people and the purchasing decisions are made by people.

The value of a business exceeds the product or service it offers, its prices and its placement. This is despite it being impressed upon business students that product, price, placement and promotion are the most important considerations for a marketing mix.

Little wonder, then, that a 2018 study on learning and development carried out by LinkedIn showed that training for soft skills was the number one priority for talent development. This is because today when automation and computing technologies reduce the technical labour placed on workers, adaptability and a human touch rules.

Human resources industry experts, the study asserts, agree that demand for soft skills will continue to accelerate. These intangible interpersonal skills that help teams collaborate, influence and communicate are the bedrock upon which successful businesses are built.

Every marketplace is highly saturated with products that have little to no real differentiation. It is at this point that customer experience means everything. The interactions within a business, between a business and its customers and a business and its vendors, mean much more when brand loyalty is a key issue in today’s world, than when monopolies ran roughshod.

But how can SME leaders gain these soft skills within their organisations? The beauty of soft skills is that they are transferrable. Their value does not diminish when moved across industries but rather grows as their holder gains invaluable insight through myriad interactions and experiences.

So hiring people who already display these skills seems like the easiest option. But this doesn’t take into account the cost of recruiting new employees and the increasing demand for people with soft skills. Bringing in one person with excellent social and emotional skills is great, but it leaves the rest of the team, including the manager, at a bit of a disadvantage.

Training internal team members in the skills that the business needs is significantly more effective in realising an all-rounded growth within the company. This is by boosting interest in the company and improving morale and team spirit as the team grows together.

The 2018 LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report states that 94 per cent of employees would stay at a company if the organisation invested more in their careers. A business owner who doesn’t consider learning a priority is going to miss out. Development is no longer a perk set aside for some high ranking positions in a company, but rather an expected part of the job in today’s climate.

Setting up skills workshops need not be expensive or complicated. You can simply hop onto Yellow Pages and do a quick search for career training and you will have dozens of results that will set you on the path to an improved team. If not, the internet has plenty of resources that can be used without necessarily increasing budgetary allocation for the short term. In the long term, however, it is vital that professionals handle the training.

For SMEs where wage budgets need to be kept low, soft skills are just as valuable as technical skills.