The construction industry is challenging in the best of times. In the current and foreseeable tight labor market, companies need to gain every competitive advantage to attract and retain quality personnel. Personnel issues frequently take a back seat to bottom line concerns, but they can lead to reduced productivity and employee turnover that results in disruption and lower profits.

In a tough environment, firms must implement personnel strategies that incorporate “soft skills” to help teams focus, increase productivity, and reduce turnover. Managers need to hire and identify employees with superior soft skills and encourage all employees to develop them. In the end, companies can leverage these tools to create a winning culture that benefits the business and its employees.

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are about creating a functional company culture where good processes lead to excellent results.

  • Communication: Superior communication increases productivity, avoids the need for expensive corrections, and improves employee satisfaction. Managers should provide overall goals and clear directives, be conscious of tone, and communicate frequently but concisely.
  • Conflict management: Conflicts frequently arise within teams, and teaching employees how to handle disagreements in a professional manner allows them to focus on the company’s goals. Employees who resolve conflicts save time and money.
  • Collaboration: Employees who effectively collaborate with others understand their role and complement others. Collaborators help the team obtain quick and effective results.
  • Confidence: Confident employees affirmatively promote the firm’s best interests and believe their input has value. They can accept feedback and implement course corrections. Insecure employees look out for themselves first, which adversely affects results, morale, and effort.
  • Critical thinking: Superior employees quickly identify issues and devise practical solutions that result in greater productivity and higher profits.

How to Develop and Encourage Soft Skills

Leaders must receive training on communication, listening and offering effective feedback, and motivating others. When employees are effective, they must be recognized and promoted. When employees misstep, it should be addressed immediately, and they must be instructed on how to improve.

Communication training should address type, timing, and frequency of communication, as well as content and tone. Openly identify the preferred type of communication for different types of situations, e.g., group meetings, one on one discussions, voice calls, text, and email. Encourage teams to communicate frequently, but demand that they stay on task and avoid wordiness.

When a communication mode and/or tone works, recognize and encourage it. When a mode misfires or when directives are unclear, identify the issue and address it. For example, one might use more effective language, more appropriate timing, and/or a different mode of transmission. Communication is an ongoing process and requires constant small corrections.

Non-verbal communication (body language) must also be addressed because it affects recipients in important, but less obvious ways. For instance, if a manager speaks with their arms crossed and uses a dictatorial tone, employees stop listening and ultimately shut down over time. Identify non-verbal cues and provide employees with guidance to create more effective and inviting discourse.

Conflicts frequently arise, and the construction industry has a “tough guy” reputation. Conflict can lead to improvements on a project, but management must encourage employees to raise issues and immediately address problems transparently. Thank employees for raising issues and let them know how the issues were resolved. Over time, employees will feel empowered to discuss potential problems, and managers will learn to relay solutions up and down the chain of command.

Collaboration really means that each employee’s strengths and contributions are incorporated to maximize the team effort. If the firm’s managers discuss the employees’ contributions with them, the employees will more readily accept their directives and work harder because they will feel appreciated.

Confidence is gained, and critical thinking is encouraged, through good results and specific feedback. When an employee achieves a good result or has a great idea, the firm’s leaders should recognize their specific contribution. Overly general praise makes other employees jealous and feels less genuine. Specific recognition is more authentic and less susceptible to claims of favoritism.

Soft skills are increasingly important in these times, and with the upcoming generation of employees, firms must recognize and use soft skills to be competitive and to attract and retain the best employees.