Coursera for Business partnered with ATD, Association for Talent Development, to host the webcast: “Leadership Skills for the Future of Work”. Ian Stuart, Director of Learning & Development at Coursera, led the discussion with David Van Kleeck, Professor in the Practice of Engineering Leadership. To watch a recording of the webcast, register here.
The world of work is rapidly changing due to technology, globalization, and a new generation of workers. In this changing landscape, the ability to identify and develop capable leaders will be key to business success. However, companies are struggling to see what lies ahead and to help potential leaders develop the skills they will need. Here are the top takeaways:
The importance of soft skills
- Soft skills are defined as personal attributes that enable one to interact effectively and harmoniously with others.
- When thinking about soft skills in the world of technology, Professor David Van Kleeck shared that technical skills are fairly easy to come by. “It’s the soft stuff that is the hard stuff.” Soft skills are the differentiator between average and exceptional performers.
- Engineers cannot just rely on analytical problem solving or technical skills – they have to develop the soft skills. They recognize that where they begin to struggle is in situations of ambiguity, dealing with people issues, solving real world problems – all of which highlights the need for soft skills training.
- The most important soft skill is “supportive communication”, which includes active listening, being specific, and focusing on problems vs people. Being skilled at other soft skills such as facilitation, emotional intelligence, negotiation and conflict management all require communication skills as the foundation.
- Steps to develop practical leadership skills.
- Step 1: Build self awareness and understanding, via assessments, drills, self-reflection, and external feedback.
- Step 2: Identify your strengths and weaknesses within the established leadership framework at your organization.
- Step 3: Prioritize what you need to develop now vs. later, and form action plans to develop the skills. Plans should include getting help and continuous feedback from others such as a coach and your network.
- Step 4: Go out and practice. You need to make the mistakes to learn and grow, seek leadership opportunities.
- To develop these skills, Coursera offers many leadership and management courses. Prof. Van Kleeck teaches the Leadership Development for Engineers Specialization, targeting technical employees with 0-5 years of work experience, looking to grow their skills and move into a lead role.
How to measure the ROI of soft skills
Both presenters and attendees shared their approaches to demonstrating ROI.
- Define an action plan based on the learning, then track your results on that action plan, with manager and team feedback on progress.
- Conduct an upward feedback survey to rate the manager’s performance. Connect skills from training into the survey, to correlate efforts to those results.
- Create forums for people to interact on what they learned, discuss situations.
- Conduct 30/30s: Spend 30 minutes reviewing the past 30 days and and 30 minutes on what you will focus on the next 30 days.
- Include soft skills competencies in Performance Review.
- Perform pre & post tests to measure knowledge.
Prof. Van Kleeck takes an operational approach, by evaluating incremental improvements you get and costs you incur if you don’t develop these skills. Good coaching will make a difference in improving performance and employees will leave if they don’t get good coaching. A rule of thumb he uses with engineers is their portfolio of work needs to be worth 10x their salary. So improvements in that output can be attributed to training and coaching. And if you lose staff, the cost of replacing and ramping an employee means it can take a year to contribute at that 10x level. You need to be more creative in other functional areas that are less quantifiable. For example, in HR, you could measure churn reductions or increased job satisfaction.
Ways L&D professionals can facilitate the development process
- Often the focus tends to be on the senior leadership level, but lower-level managers is where the rubber hits the road. L&D should also focus on developing these managers to lead their staff.
- Make staff development a component of the annual performance plan for managers.
- Engage multiple levels of leaders in developing an individual. The immediate manager has a good view of performance, the skip level manager can provide better mentoring opportunities.
- Leadership and management courses such as those offered through Coursera can build needed skills and provide support at scale.
Learn more about Leadership Courses, Specializations, Degrees and Professional Certificates offered by Coursera.
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