The Difference between “Hard” and “Soft” Skills in a Performance Evaluation

Within every job, there are hard and soft skills an employee must demonstrate. Hard skills generally refer to how an employee performs the job itself – for example, is an accountant able to analyze financial records and give clients solid advice? Soft skills generally refer to people skills and how employees conduct themselves on the job. It can be difficult to assess both skillsets thoroughly and fairly, but strength in both categories is often required for success.

Understanding the Difference between Hard and Soft Skills

Hard skills include the book skills you learn in school. They are the components that remain the same in any environment. Hard skills people commonly list on resumes include programming language familiarity, degree levels, certifications, and familiarity with certain software, platforms, or computers. For a writer, Microsoft Word is a hard skill, whereas communicating with clients and understanding parameters is a soft skill.

Soft skills include a professional’s ability to adapt to an environment, their willingness to learn, their creativity, and their problem-solving skills. These are attributes of a person’s personality that aren’t taught, but are learned in each job environment. Both types of skills can be valuable in the workplace, and those who are drawn more toward one skill type than another may use aptitude to help them find the right job.

Depending on the career, one type of skillset may be more important than another is. For instance, a salesperson, marketer, or customer support specialist usually needs soft skills more than hard skills. Programmers, physicists, and mechanics, on the other hand, may not need advanced soft skills to do their jobs well.

Those in the medical field, lawyers, and other professionals may need to possess equal talent for each type of skill to excel in the field. They need a certain level of expertise to conduct their jobs properly, but many also have a high degree of interpersonal connectivity, making soft skills an important facet of the job.

Hard and Soft Skills in Performance Reviews

Many companies make the mistake of glossing over soft skills while focusing primarily on hard skills. To get a complete picture of performance, the context and the evaluation of both skillsets is often required. Companies can make the most out of a performance review by taking some time to prioritize the skills an employee ideally needs to do the job well. Not every job will require a thorough review of every skill, but the right mixture can make a difference in the outcome of a review and subsequent performance of an employee.

Depending on the individual, soft skills may be a much more challenging part of work performance and achievement, and recognizing strengths and weaknesses in both categories can alert management to areas of improvement. Soft skills commonly looked at in performance reviews include adaptability, dependability, listening skills, decision making, interpersonal skills, and communication. Hard skills that may apply to one or more jobs include job knowledge and technical skills.

How to Help Employees Improve Skills

Once your company has identified the requisite hard and soft skills needed for success in a job position, rate them. Some managers choose to do performance reviews with notes and a small-scale assessment, but this often means certain topics fall through the cracks and go unaddressed. Instead, use a template system to empower your managers to have the discussions needed to recognize strengths, provide solutions for weaknesses, and provide overall encouragement.

A manager may easily identify those in a department or team who need help with hard or soft skills, but a comprehensive review system will allow him or her to take that information and create an actionable review process. Here are some tips management can use to help employees improve their weakness in hard or soft skills:

  • Encourage or require trainings: Every professional needs continuing education to stay sharp year after year. Some employees may really benefit from some added training, however. Whether an employee is lacking soft or hard skills, a certification course or communication and training sessions may help him or her feel more confident, make better decisions, and perform better overall. If you invest in an entry-level employee’s continuing education, the act may have the added benefit of inspiring confidence and loyalty, two things that can also improve performance.
  • Have frank discussions: The performance review and rating process for skills should serve as a baseline for a period of time. Managers and supervisors should schedule regular, informal feedback sessions to keep their teams on the right track throughout the period. If an employee doesn’t know he lacks tact or that she isn’t quite as adept at illustration as she thought, he or she can’t improve.

Have an honest and open discussion with individual employees about improving certain skills and what it would mean to the team.

  • Evaluate the makeup of a team: Some people will never have good listening skills. Others may never become adept at learning software or accomplishing technical tasks. Comprehensive skillset reviews help managers identify natural strength and weakness patterns in a team environment.

Instead of trying to fit round people into square holes, use the information to place people in positions where they can really shine. Retention is more cost-effective and culturally supportive than accepting a high turnover rate. Try placing low skillset performers in alternative job settings to see if their performance improves.

  • Recognize achievement: For some introverts, speaking in group settings will never feel natural. For others, attitude is a serious hindrance to job productivity. Make a note of your employees’ strongest weaknesses and then show appreciation and recognition when they go above and beyond to work through their weaknesses to perform at a higher level than the period before. Receiving congratulations for doing something easy rarely invites the same level of satisfaction as congratulations for doing something hard well.

Understanding the balance of hard and soft skills each department in your organization requires allows you to manage human capital better. Your company has a wealth of talent at its fingertips if it’s properly assessed, placed, and encouraged. Use a comprehensive template system to find the balance your company needs to start seeing results today.

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