An essential software upgrade falls apart because your team fails to work together. Conflict arises and the blame game gets underway. You’ve given your your technical workers world-class coding training, so why aren’t they be better communicators and collaborators? In today’s economy, superior technical skills are not enough to ensure your organization’s success.
The critical importance of interpersonal skills, or “soft skills,” has become a much-discussed topic among academics and business leaders. Sociologists Philip Moss and Chris Tilly define soft skills as “skills, abilities, and traits that pertain to personality, attitudes and behavior rather than to formal or technical knowledge.” Communication, empathy, teamwork, creativity, flexibility, and listening are all essential competencies which employers need —and yet finding candidates and employees with these competencies is an ongoing challenge.
The Case for Soft Skills
A recent survey of over a decade of Google’s HR data concluded that STEM expertise is one of the least important qualities of Google’s top employees. The seven top characteristics of success are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem-solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. Other studies report similar trends: A recent report by iCIMS Hiring Insight finds that 94% of recruiters believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.
The Soft Skills Gap
According to a survey by Adecco Staffing, 92 percent of senior executives in the U.S. acknowledge there is a serious gap in workforce skills: 44 percent of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap. In fact, only 22 percent cited a lack of technical skills as the culprit for the U.S. skills gap. In an interview with CNBC, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner noted, “[I]nterpersonal skills is where we're seeing the biggest imbalance. Communications is the No. 1 skills gap across major cities in the United States.”
The Importance of Soft Skills Training
Organizations would be well served by developing soft skills among their new hires and current employees. There are a variety of ways to make soft skills a priority in the workplace, from making them part of performance assessments, to setting goals incorporating soft skills, to modeling the same skills in workplace interactions. In addition, online microlearning is a natural fit for employees motivated to improve their communication and other soft skills. According to the LinkedIn report mentioned earlier, “The modern employee wants to take time to learn when they’re in the office. They want opportunities to learn at their own pace and to access learning at the point of need.”
Many business leaders already know that who an employee is is just as important as what an employee can do. As former Porsche CEO Peter Schutz put it, “Hire character. Train skill.” Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson adds: “We look for people who are friendly and considerate, and who like working with others.” In the end, it’s not a competition between soft skills and hard skills, it’s about recognizing that an employee with both skill sets has greater potential, potential not even a robot could outmatch.