The Revolution in Management Training: How 21st Century businesses conquer the hard job of teaching 'soft skills'

by Jenkins, Eva Wednesday, November 09, 2005
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The 21st Century business revolution has transformed the previous generation's 9-5 workplace. In many corporations, the environment is anything but "corporate" with telecommuting, flexible hours, and virtual offices that allow employees to turn their homes into launching pads for success. Businesses of all sizes now realize that replacing traditionally restrictive work policies with humanistic, employee-centric models can result in greater productivity and increased profits.

This realization has also led to a shift in how forward-thinking companies are approaching their training programs. "The work environment has changed and learning environments for managers and supervisors need to transition to the next level, as well," says Eva Jenkins, a respected staffing and training professional specializing in effective "human capital management." She believes that technology, in the form of e-learning, provides an unsurpassed tailored-to-your-business-and-lifestyle approach to teaching essential leadership skills.

Jenkins’ own belief in the value of e-learning is more than theoretical. It's manifested in her own company, VIP Innovations. An established industry leader with a rich history in people-oriented skills training, VIP Innovations has helped many organizations "equip managers with the skills and tools they need to succeed".

Recently, we added online courses with the same content and instructional design integrity that powers our classroom supervision training. "We felt that e-learning was a perfect way to reach our clients and their employees because of its easy-to-customize nature," she explains. "That makes it an invaluable option and a perfect fit for any business we work with."

The Human Touch in an Electronic Era

Jenkins says that regardless of industry niche or company size, leadership skills training for managers and supervisors must include modules on hard skills (like technical abilities) andsoft skills. Soft skills include "the ability to communicate effectively, support change, develop performance goals and standards, and provide performance feedback," she explains.

Team leaders who have been taught the 'arts and sciences' of human capital management are more effective and more fulfilled. Mastery of tasks such as conflict resolution, discipline, and delegation "creates managers who are better at their jobs and teams who are inspired by the men and women they report to. Well-trained managers lead by example, challenging and motivating their colleagues to meet the standards they set for themselves.

Human Capital, the umbrella term for employees and their skills, is "a company's most valuable asset," says Jenkins. "And like any asset, when people are managed correctly, they can deliver a tremendous return on investment." By the same token, mismanagement leads to "hemorrhaging capital through lost productivity, decreased motivation, job dissatisfaction, and poor employee retention."

Investing in human capital can't be ignored. Companies that want to meet their success goals "must implement effective training programs that help leaders at all levels develop the management skills that really matter and that are required for success," she says.

E-Learning to the Rescue

According to Jenkins, e-learning solutions and online training are the answer…but with an important caveat: She notes that companies may be too focused on the method of teaching and ignore the results of that teaching.

"There can be a lot to gain by moving to online learning – reduced training time and increased flexibility are just two significant benefits that companies can enjoy," she notes. But those benefits are meaningless if "the e-learning itself isn’t effective," she points out.

Essential Elements

WE at VIP believe there are five key elements that are part and parcel of any successful e-learning program. To start with "Full bookmarking capability means a student can pick up a lesson where he or she left off whenever time allows," says Jenkins. "It's the best way to achieve a highly customized experience that any student -- or teacher -- will tell you is the optimum approach to learning."

Another recommendation is the inclusion of high-quality video modeling scenarios "to engage learners with situations they will recognize and solutions they can apply and interactive quizzes in different formats "to ensure active participation and knowledge transfer." Simulated practice using real world examples is a meaningful technique for "connecting skills points to realistic business challenges," she believes.

"Learning is theoretical until it's put to the test…and then tested again," says Jenkins. She strongly advocates post-course testing capability with pass/fail settings "to measure knowledge and retention levels and to provide results that may be analyzed as to effectiveness."


Effective Means Beneficial In Many Ways

While seeking to expand VIP's reach into e-courses, Jenkins researched a variety of online options. “The e-learning solutions we’ve tried came up short on accountability and quality," she reports. "And online solutions that don’t engage or challenge our learners do our training efforts more harm than good.”

Jenkins said she found the ultimate win-win situation in the programs developed by Vital-Learning, with a 20-year record of success and that accreditation by ITCAP, the Industry Training Credit Approval Process. "With an ITCAP program, employees get academic credit for work-related training," explains Jenkins. "So in addition to upgrading their professional skills and furthering their personal career paths, they get a tangible, permanent reward for their efforts.

Employers benefit from ITCAP programs as well. "Of course, there are the tax benefits," referring to tuition reimbursement for training costs. "But what some employers many not realize is just how much their employees appreciate the high-quality training that also earns them college credit. That appreciation translates into "increased employee retention and better recruitment opportunities."