Soft Skills: How to stop losing the major part of your seminar budget
Executive Education / 16 August 2016
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Wolfgang is trainer, coach and published author in the field of communication. He has a PhD in mathematics and teaches his self-developed concept PEC - practical emotional competence throughout Germany and German-speaking countries. He provides seminars at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management since 2010 in English and German. Prior to his trainer career he worked as a manager in sales and service for international renowned companies in Germany.

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Studies show that an average of 15 % of the participants of soft skill seminars implement the contents taught in practice. Around 70 % fail in the implementation of the soft skills learned. The remaining 15 % do not even try. Some companies take countermeasures against this with advanced seminars, with moderate success. The follow-up by coaching or practical guidance markedly improves the success of the seminar. However, with a great deal of effort and cost.

Why is that? The cause is rarely the quality of the seminar. According to the above study, successful implementation increases significantly when the focus is not solely on seminars, but equally on preparation and follow-up. Just as much effort should be devoted to the latter as the seminar and preparation together. Here the personnel developers are required to include the managers responsible and to work in collaboration with expert seminar providers.

Soft skills are primarily real-time skills!

In conversations, telephone calls, meetings and negotiations, there is no time to think. Success requires real-time communication through internalised skills. And therein lies the problem of classic further training focused solely on seminars. It imparts knowledge, experiences and recommendations for actions, supplemented by exercises, role playing, personal experience and feedback. All right and necessary. But not enough for the internalisation of real-time skills. These arise exclusively through independent, continuous practising of specific techniques based on understood and emotionally accepted rules.

This can be illustrated by a comparison with sport: active athletes know that successes only come about through continuous practice. Even amateur golfers do not expect that they can already play golf after a taster course. Why, then, do so many decision makers still believe that employees communicate professionally, sell or manage better after a soft skills seminar?

Of course, I cannot answer on their behalf. However, I have developed concepts and methods in cooperation with Frankfurt School to ensure that employees internalise the skills they need for their daily real-time communication:

The key elements of the approach are

  • Motivation
  • Proven acquired and accepted knowledge,
  • Precise rules with practical techniques for implementation,
  • Action plans and instructions for individual practice,
  • Continuous independent practice with feedback on progress made.

Effort and investment remain manageable with proper implementation. For this we will consider the individual components in sequence.

Motivation: Here preparation is important. Which skills the participants should specifically develop and internalise need to be discussed and defined. The development targets must be transparent for participants, and – this is crucial – also accepted and adopted. The latter achieve a kick-off in which, for example, the participants understand the what, why and how of the training. It must be clear what benefits they personally and the company will gain. This is how to increase their willingness and motivation to try new things.

Proven acquired and accepted knowledge is indispensable. Training without background knowledge is dressage! The result is schematic, unauthentic behaviour.  Knowledge transfer in a presence seminar is time consuming and therefore not very economical. Participants are missing in the workplace, incur travelling expenses and, of course, the fee for the instructors. A modern, permanently available multimedia online campus, with online verification of student progress and an accompanying book is an effective alternative. It is crucial for the acceptance of the acquired knowledge that the participants understand the benefits derived from this for their future actions and what habits and behaviour patterns they need to change, and how. The web-based learning units can be called up as desired. This allows individual learning customised to the needs of each participant.

Precise rules with practical techniques for implementation go way beyond exhortations, good advice and tips. Participants must not only know their future needs exactly, they need to learn how they can fulfil these in practice. That can also be efficiently communicated online. Rules can be formulated to be precise and easy to understand and can be justified. Techniques can be clearly explained and their use effectively described. The online part exists from the ongoing self-monitoring of the progress of one’s own understanding. Helpful here are opportunities for exchange with other participants and the trainer.

Action plans and instructions for individual practice: After the participants have acquired knowledge, understood rules and know the necessary techniques, it is now exclusively a matter of practice. Participants try out and experience in presence training what rules are useful to them and when, and what techniques are the best. A trainer gives appreciative feedback, corrects where necessary and supports the participants at the end when setting up their individual action plans for independent continuing practice in everyday life. The exercise of the week, as it is called, delivers short, motivating impulses by video clip on a regular basis.

Continuous independent practice with feedback on progress made: In everyday life, participants should not be left alone. The ideal is repeated, part-time telephone coaching. A trainer agrees with each participant a situation which is critical from his point of view. This is then worked through by role play on the phone between participant and trainer. The participant will receive feedback and suggestions for modifying his action plan.

The combination described here of web-based communication of knowledge, rules and techniques, skills development in practical training, skill strengthening by telephone coaching and ongoing supportive motivation through the exercise of the week, guarantees that skills can be built sustainably.

Additional information can be found at communication 4.0 of efiport AG and the open offer for sustainable communication skills of FS.