Last year, softskills training topped respondents' list of priorities, with 28 percent of responses falling into this broad category. Included were the sub-groups leadership, management and supervisory skills training, as well as interpersonal skills, teamwork, customer service, diversity and sexual harassment training.
The 2004 survey results were no exception. In fact, softskills training ranked second on the list for 2004, with 18.63 percent of learning professionals ranking the broad category as one of their main priorities for the coming year. In determining which training to include in the softskills category, we included the following types of responses:
- Customer service training
- Diversity training
- Interpersonal skills training
- Leadership development
- Management development
- Sexual harassment training
- Teamwork training
The verdict? As was the case last year, softskills training is not simply a "nice-to-have" that has been put on the shelf because of staffing and budget cuts. Rather, it's a fundamental business goal that is at the forefront of learning leaders' agendas—regardless of what may be occurring in the external business environment.
For the training arm of Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C., which employs 23,000, a strategic focus on softskills training surrounding everything from leadership and management development to general business acumen is regarded as one of the primary components of the organization's overall ability to succeed in a competitive, rapidly changing environment.
According to Paul Boyett, Duke's director of talent management, Duke is a highly diversified company that will continue to buy and sell several of its assets over time. To ensure that the company continues to operate successfully despite this rapid change, he says, Duke's training department has identified a host of business, managerial and other softskills training that promises to aid Duke workers as they contend with the practical implications of such change.
In 1999, Boyett's department created a competency model that is shared across all of Duke's business units. Over the next two years, his team then developed a training curriculum for each of the 14 competencies included in that model. These curricula, he says, cluster around three domains: personal mastery (ethics, self-awareness, interpersonal communication and effective teamwork); management mastery (decisionmaking, leadership and communication); and business mastery (which is geared toward financial education and training workers to have a commercial focus and look beyond their immediate departments to other Duke business units, as well as to the external business environment).
To ensure that workers at all levels are exposed to such skills, Boyett's team then built a curriculum portfolio around each domain that includes three levels: professional, management and executive. The professional level, Boyett says, focuses on processes and techniques, while the management level builds upon that knowledge and delves into topics such as critical networks and how to ensure that work gets done. Meanwhile, the executive curriculum centers around overarching business issues such as negotiation, integration and strategic thinking.
By focusing on efforts such as these right now, Boyett says, Duke is ensuring that workers at all levels are prepared for what's on the horizon. "Our fundamental [softskills] curriculum is in place because we recognize the need to keep a steady supply of leaders in the pipeline who are being developed and groomed," he says. "The reality is that, oftentimes, as people move up in an organization's hierarchy, success is predicated on relationship-building, strategic awareness and other softskills." —B.H. & S.B.