The path to so-called “hard skills” is often clear: Get a degree or certification and you’re suddenly qualified with a new line on your resume. Then there are less clear milestones such as learning the ability to plan a long-term project, negotiating with clients or give a clear presentation. Fortunately, there are concrete ways to cultivate soft skills for the skills revolution 2.0.
Start with specifics
Many New Year’s Resolutions fail because they are too ambiguous, such as the goal of getting in shape. What, specifically, do you want? At work, make a list of potential soft skills you need such as interpersonal communication, leadership and personal branding. Then drill down to make it specific. For example, focus on interpersonal skills in a specific way by providing written feedback for colleagues in project meetings.
Don’t do too much too soon
To go back to the New Year’s Resolution analogy, another pitfall is trying to do it all. Maybe you want to lose weight and travel more, two goals which may cancel each other out. The same is true of soft skills at work. For example, if your goal is to become a dynamic public speaker, you may want to wait on the next goal of providing better interpersonal feedback, which takes a different ability.
Make it measurable
Measuring a goal can take the form of both inputs and outputs. If you goal is to improve your leadership throughout your organization, for example, you may make a goal of joining three volunteer committees. That’s an input metric. Then how do you know if you’re making progress through that action? That takes the next step, output metrics.
Output metrics are often associated with 360s and performance reviews, which play a part in developing your soft skills. But you can also create your own output metrics by meeting with your manager and asking her to keep you accountable. For example, you may ask your manager to rate you on your leadership ability before and after you join three committees at work. Having this external measure at the end of a development cycle will help keep you motivated and accountable.
Finally, go back to the beginning when you have finished this cycle. Skills in demand from employers, and your ability to develop these talents are crucial to advancement.