By guest author: Jack McGrath of Digitec Interactive.
Competencies are critical in today’s business world. Being able to quickly determine what your employees know and can do will allow your organization be more responsive and determine skill gaps.
Skills are often classified as “hard” or “soft.” What makes a skill hard or soft? It’s usually not the difficulty level, that’s for sure. Soft skills are generally more difficult to master than hard skills. The “hard” and “soft” refer to how concrete the skill is.
Defining characteristics: Have an absolutely right, step-by-step formula or set of rules for how to succeed every time.
Responses to “How do I ..?” might be: “Like this,” “You do this,” or “Follow these steps.”
Ways to learn them for the first time: Watch someone else go through the process, watch a how-to video, take notes and write the steps down, read instructions, or have a beginner try using the skill on their own and have an expert available to provide help.
Best way to develop them: Repetition. It’s always the same, so after a learner has used the skill enough times they should be comfortable with it. If necessary, a checklist can help ensure that all steps are followed each time.
Examples: Sending an e-mail. Regardless of the message, it always involves the following steps: opening or logging into an e-mail program, creating a new e-mail, typing in a title, including who the message is supposed to go to, typing the message, and sending the e-mail.
Basic addition, like 2+2=4. You always increase the existing amount by the given number.
Riding a bike. You always sit on the seat, balance to stay upright, and pedal to move.
Defining characteristics: Have general guidelines rather than specific steps, since doing the same thing won’t result in success each time. There are different factors, or variables, that need to be taken into account each time.
Responses to “How do I ..?” might be: “That depends on,” “In this case,” or “Generally.”
Ways to learn them for the first time: Learners should be introduced to the guidelines and variables early on. Using a One-minute Preceptor is a good way to help learners discover these factors, rather than simply memorizing them. Memorization can be an option too, but the information isn’t as likely to be personally meaningful or make it to long-term memory. Then the learner needs to use the skill in a meaningful way.
Best way to develop them: Practice using the skill in different situations. After a learner has internalized the guidelines and variables involved they can practice using a number of methods: eLearning scenarios, role-playing, reading case studies then writing down what they would do and comparing it to what actually happened, participating in discussions to learn from others, etc.
Examples: Closing a sale. Every potential customer has different needs, wants, interests, price sensitivity, etc. There are different strategies for closing sales because there isn’t one “right” way to do it.
Leading a team. Each team is made up of different people who have different strengths, weaknesses, communication preferences, levels of motivation and organization, etc. Not to mention that each leader is different too. There’s more than one way to do this successfully.
Problem solving. This is a broad skill and there are many types of problems. It would be wonderful if it was a hard skill and all you had to do was tap your heels together three times and think to yourself, “There’s no problem at all.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
When you develop competencies it’s important to keep the difference between hard skills and soft skills in mind. Both are important, but learning them can be two very different processes. Remember that “hard” and “soft” are about concreteness, not difficulty. Soft skills often take longer to master because they have guidelines and variables rather than the fixed processes hard skills use.
Digitec Interactive is an Orlando, FL-based developer of learning technology and content for the associations market. The company is best known for its learning management platform Knowledge Direct, which enables associations to create, maintain, administer, market and sell online education. Its award-winning instructional design team has created custom learning experiences for such Fortune 500 clients as Disney, P&G, Symantec, Cisco Systems, and Hilton Worldwide, among others. Jack McGrath, President and Creative Director, joined Digitec in 2000, and is a recognized expert in the e-learning field. He has won a number of industry awards, and is an acclaimed speaker and educator on the topic. Jack served in a teaching position at Seminole State College for over 22 years, and holds Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Liberal Arts degrees from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.