By Corporate English Solutions

30 May 2023 - 14:37

Navigating the challenges of soft skills needs analysis

In today's dynamic workplace, soft skills are vital for customer satisfaction, performance, productivity and engagement. Needs analysis is the crucial first step towards aligning soft skills training with the evolving demands of your organisation.

However, navigating this process can be challenging. That's why we've created a practical guide to help L&D teams excel in their soft skills needs analysis. Let us join you on your journey to maximise the impact of your workforce's potential.


Reading time: 12 minutes

Soft skills matter. They are today’s power skills: behaviours, attributes and abilities that help your organisation to enhance performance, engagement and drive growth. They are deeply personal, complex and subjective, making it challenging to define, measure and develop them in your employees. 

Needs analysis plays a crucial role in unlocking the true potential of these power skills. It’s the first step in aligning your talent development initiatives with the evolving demands of the modern workplace. Soft skills can be highly sensitive for employees and the way needs analysis is carried out can impact their trust and willingness to participate in training programmes. 

It’s a process that goes beyond surface-level observations and taps into the essence of the organisation’s culture, mission and values. 

Sound challenging? It can be. 

That’s why we’ve drawn up this practical, step-by-step guide for L&D teams. Work through it with your team to make your soft skills needs analysis more effective.

Step 1: Identify the soft skills that support your organisation's values, mission and culture


  • Values, mission and culture shape how employees behave and interact.
  • Soft skills that align with these contribute to the achievement of your organisation’s strategic objectives. When employees possess and demonstrate these skills, they are better equipped to work towards shared goals, enhance teamwork, and contribute positively to the organisation's overall success.
  • Organisations that consistently demonstrate the soft skills aligned with their values, mission, and culture tend to have a positive brand reputation, being perceived as trustworthy, reliable, and socially responsible. 
  • This can lead to increased customer loyalty, business opportunities, and a competitive edge in the market.


1. Review mission statement, values, objectives and relevant documentation

  • Review annual reports, employee handbooks and policy documents.
  • Look for key phrases and words that describe the organisation's mission and values and identify how these align with its culture and goals.
  • Identify key words relating to soft skills.

2. Survey key stakeholders

  • Gather information from senior leadership, business managers, and HR teams.
  • Use data from employee and customer surveys.

3. Gather data from job descriptions, competency frameworks and performance management systems

  • Look for soft skills mentioned as desired or required for various roles. 
  • Identify recurring themes or patterns related to soft skills and assess how they reflect your organisation's values and desired behaviours.


Case study

A review carried out by an international bank’s L&D team uncovered clear links between its mission, values and soft skills needed by its employees. 

Its mission is to support diverse clients to achieve their goals by understanding their unique needs and providing personalised financial solutions. Their core values include customer centricity, professionalism and collaboration. Key soft skills supporting these values are communication, EQ, cultural intelligence, teamwork, problem-solving and adaptability. 

Data from surveys and systems revealed that technical skills, along with innovation, problem-solving and communication were currently being prioritised for learning and had value for key internal stakeholders. However, customers also appreciated EQ and cultural sensitivity (CQ) in their relationships with the bank, two soft skills that closely align with the bank’s mission

Step 2: Take a future-focused approach to soft skills mapping


  • The workplace landscape is constantly evolving and skills needed will radically change. 
  • Soft skills are increasingly important to success, enabling organisations to adapt and thrive in a dynamic and uncertain environment, preparing their employees to navigate future challenges and drive sustained growth.
  • By anticipating future skill requirements, organisations can proactively prepare their workforce for upcoming challenges and opportunities by bridging skills gaps. 


1. Plan 3-5 years ahead

  • Stay up to date with Future of Work trends. 
  • What are the most popular skills on the rise in your industry?
  • How mobile and transferable are key skillsets? Can they easily shift to different departments or geographic locations?
  • Which jobs in your organisation will most likely become automated in the future?
  • What kind of roles (that do not exist today) will be most urgently needed?
  • How prepared are you for unexpected turnover of valuable skillsets (e.g., digital skills)?


2. Create future skills frameworks

  • Prioritise the skills that will have the most impact on your 3–5-year plan and link to your mission, values and business objectives.
  • Consider how you can leverage technology to help you create both future skills inventories and a training needs analysis.

3. Integrate future frameworks into current skills map

  • Update your skills maps with these high-priority future areas. 
  • Consider using talent management systems to audit future as well as present skills needed against the current capabilities of your different teams.

Case study 

The L&D team used a Future of Work framework and identified that digital transformation, automation, and globalisation would increase the need for adaptable and resilient employees able to navigate complex and rapidly changing environments. 

Adaptability, critical thinking, collaboration, resilience and creativity would be crucial to success. Strong EQ and CQ would prepare their workforce to navigate the complexities of the future of work, enhance collaboration, and foster a positive and inclusive work environment. 

This analysis reinforced the skills identified in step 1 and highlighted the need to add resilience skills as a specific focus area to their future skills framework.

Step 3: Create psychologically safe conditions for needs analysis


  • Psychological safety provides an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, opinions, and needs without fear of negative consequences. Employees can openly share sensitive topics and reveal skills gaps, for comprehensive, accurate and valuable information.
  • It also fosters trust between employees and the L&D team, increasing engagement in the needs analysis process and subsequent soft skills training. 
  • Open and honest sharing encourages a culture of continuous improvement and learning that supports ongoing soft skills development.


1. Reiterate the purpose of soft skills analysis

  • Highlight that the aim of the needs analysis is to support employee development and meet their training needs. 
  • Explain how the gathered information will be used to develop targeted training.
  • Emphasise that it is not part of performance management.

2. Reassure employees that open, honest input is valued

  • Let employees know that there are no consequences of sharing
  • Demonstrate that you take their input seriously by using non-judgmental active listening and empathy in focus groups and interviews and recognising their contributions to surveys

3. Provide clear communication and expectations

  • Be transparent about the process, timeline, and any potential follow-up actions. This helps employees understand the value of their participation and builds trust in the process.
  • Assure employees that their responses and feedback will be kept confidential where possible.
  • Offer the option for anonymity, particularly in surveys or assessments, to further promote a sense of safety and encourage honest and open responses. Let employees know if you will share data on their specific soft skills gaps

Case study 

The bank had done a lot in recent years to create a culture of continuous learning and growth. Managers were responsible for continuous performance enablement and had a good overview of their teams’ strengths and learning needs. However, EQ, resilience and cultural intelligence hadn’t been explored in depth before. 

The L&D team started by communicating clearly with managers to get their buy-in for needs analysis in these new areas and to engage them to communicate its purpose and importance to their teams. A toolkit was created to support them to explain EQ, resilience and CQ clearly. 

The L&D team also sent communications to all employees, highlighting the benefits to them of the needs analysis, and outlining the process and expected outcomes. They also set up a small quality assurance team to carry out checks, making sure that employees felt they could share about these sensitive areas openly and honestly.

Step 4: Minimise bias when gathering data


  • It’s important to ensure the reliability and validity of information so that actions can be focused and effective. This can be challenging when gathering data from large numbers of dispersed employees. 
  • Striving for unbiased data collection, promotes fairness, equality, and inclusivity in the research and decision-making processes.  
  • By avoiding bias, L&D teams can enhance trust, foster confidence in the data, and maintain their reputation as reliable sources of information. 
  • Personal beliefs and biases of assessors, impartial tests and assessments, and user bias can all influence data quality and integrity. 


1. Avoid social desirability bias

Employees may give responses they think will make them look good (socially desirable) instead of their honest answers. They may overestimate their soft skills, leading to inaccurate results which undermine the needs analysis effectiveness.

  • Emphasise the importance of honest and accurate responses by assuring them that responses are confidential.
  • Use a variety of data collection methods including interview and behavioural assessments to provide a more comprehensive view of soft skills ability. 

2. Avoid groupthink bias

Employees from certain teams or groups may conform to the opinions of the group instead of expressing own opinions. This can happen in focus groups or team meetings.

  • Invite a facilitator to guide the discussion and ensure all voices are heard.
  • Ensure group needs analysis is complemented by individual, anonymised analysis

3. Avoid cultural bias

Needs analysis tools and techniques can be biased towards certain cultural norms or assumptions. E.g. Perceptions of effective communication differs between cultural contexts.

4. Avoid confirmation bias

Surveys, interviews, or assessments could be unintentionally structured in a way that elicits responses that confirm their beliefs, inadvertently leading to biased results. 

  • Check for neutral and balanced language when designing or procuring surveys, interviews, or assessments. 
  • Conduct pilot testing to identify and address potential biases. Use feedback obtained to refine and improve the data collection methods.
  • Collaborate and seek others’ input to minimise biases stemming from personal perspectives. 

Case study

During the needs analysis, the L&D team used multiple methods, combining interviews, behavioural assessments, 360-degree feedback and self-assessments to gather well-rounded data. The L&D team provided assessor training to ensure they understand biases specific to CQ, resilience and EQ and were equipped to evaluate responses objectively and without their own personal biases.

The small quality assurance team also reviewed the assessment provider’s EQ, resilience and CQ tests, along with validation data to ensure that they included a diverse range of scenarios, examples, and cultural contexts as well as inclusive language. The assessment was piloted with the customer success team before being rolled out across the organisation.

Step 5: Ensure your data analysis is balanced and free of assumptions


  • Balanced data analysis ensures that decisions and conclusions are based on a comprehensive, objective and unbiased understanding, providing accurate, reliable insights, leading to informed decision-making.
  • By striving for assumption-free analysis, L&D teams can minimise the risk of misinterpreting or misrepresenting the data.
  • Transparency about methods, procedures and decisions allows others to assess the validity and reliability of your analysis and helps foster trust in your analysis and decision-making. 
  • This enhances the credibility of and confidence in the insights and recommendations presented.  


1. Approach the data with an open mind

  • Maintain an open and unbiased mindset and be willing to challenge assumptions and preconceived notions. 
  • Avoid making premature conclusions or forcing the data to fit a specific narrative. Instead, let the data speak for itself and guide your analysis.

2. Validate and cross-reference conclusions

  • Validate your findings through multiple means. Use a range of techniques, cross-reference data, seek input from colleagues and use industry benchmarks 
  • By cross-referencing the data and seeking diverse perspectives, you can reduce the risk of biased interpretations and assumptions.

3. Look beyond the surface-level data

  • Identify patterns and themes in the data that may indicate deeper issues or trends

4. Practice transparent reporting and documentation

  • Clearly document the steps taken, assumptions made, and any limitations or uncertainties encountered.

Case study

The L&D project lead developed clear criteria for data analysis and highlighted typical biases in analysing EQ, resilience and CQ skills gaps. The team used these to determine patterns and analysed them in-depth and validated conclusions by cross-referencing data from employee surveys, feedback sessions, and assessments. 

They identified low EQ scores among team leaders, impacting teamwork and engagement and leading to conflict. This was also impacting resilience levels. In the area of CQ, their teams had a good understanding of difference, but lacked strategies to adapt to others’ cultural preferences, especially in challenging situations. Together, these were negatively impacting the core values of collaboration, professionalism and customer centricity, and affecting the bank’s ability to achieve its mission of supporting diverse clients to achieve their goals by understanding unique needs.


With our guide, you and your team can take the first steps on your soft skills needs analysis journey with clarity, confidence and credibility, align soft skills training with the evolving demands of your organisation and impact customer satisfaction, performance, productivity and engagement.

British Council has been supporting organisations worldwide to carry out effective needs analysis and understand the soft skills gaps of their employees. Partner with us to discover how we can make a difference to your needs analysis and content creation.