Here's a test. Below is a list of training course offerings. Select the courses that would greatly increase your effectiveness at work. (Courses are listed alphabetically)
- Building emotional intelligence
- Communication skills
- Computer skills
- Critical thinking skills
- Dealing with conflict or difficult people
- Financial skills
- Innovative thinking skills
- Leadership skills
- Management skills
- Negotiation skills
- Project management
- Sales skills
- Stress management
- Technical knowledge related to my job
- Time management
- Working more effectively on a team
What did you pick as your top three? We asked 5,945 recent training participants about the types of courses that would greatly increase their effectiveness at work. We expected technical knowledge related to the job would be high on the list. And it was. It was ranked No. 3 overall, with 47 percent of people selecting it. This suggests that nearly half of survey participants saw some gap in their technical know-how. Additionally, 86 percent of those surveyed said they'd attend a class on this topic if it were available.
We also thought leadership skills would be in the top three. It came in at No. 1, with 56 percent of people selecting it. In fact, leadership skills ranked higher than management skills. Our anecdotal experience suggests that even among people who have a hard time distinguishing between management and leadership, leadership is a more enticing offering. In the organizational psyche, leadership often is linked with promotion, compensation, and influence—that's an intriguing path for almost all of us. It's no wonder that 81 percent of people said they'd attend a class on leadership if it were available.
So, what was No. 2? It wasn't one of our predictions. Dealing with conflict or difficult people came in second overall, with 53 percent. That's right, getting along with people at work is seen by learners as a significant opportunity for improving effectiveness—even more than technical skills and ahead of buzz topics such as critical thinking (No. 7) and innovative thinking (No. 8). So, how can we explain the lack of alignment between executives, who did rank critical thinking and innovative thinking skills as important, and managers and non-managers, who did not? Perhaps executives view interpersonal skills as too "old school" and less relevant in the age of social networks and constant interconnectedness. Or, perhaps executives assess their own skill level and believe their employees are at that same level.
In any case, our survey paints a different picture. The need for interpersonal skill development in the workplace hasn't been fully met, and learners see this as a pressing need. In addition to conflict, communication skills also were seen as important, rounding out the top five with 42 percent of people selecting it. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they would attend a class on communication or conflict if it were available.
So what does this mean for trainers and organizations? Creating training offerings requires balancing the needs of the learner and the needs of the organization. And from the learner's perspective, balancing cognitive-based skills with interpersonal capability remains an important requirement for success.
Mark Scullard is the director of research at Inscape Publishing, a provider of training materials for the corporate market. He has more than a decade of research and data analysis experience in the development of psychological evaluation tools and methods. Scullard received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota, with a supporting program in statistics.
Jeffrey Sugerman is the president and CEO of Inscape Publishing. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior management, marketing, and business development in the technology, training, and publishing industries. Sugerman holds doctorate and master's degrees in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northwestern University.