Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation are replacing many time demanding and repetitive yet simple tasks previously done by paid employees.
The good news – for the business, at least – is that this can remove the need to recruit people with all the necessary hard skills. The even better news is that these systematisations are cheaper and more efficient. The bad news? These shifts ring true for all companies, both yours and your competitors alike. Therefore, all organisations will have lost the potential competitive advantage of a hard-skilled workforce.
So, how will your company outshine the competition if hard skills will be standardised by machinery?
With soft skills.
In fact, the workforce shift has already started with CEOs now prioritising employees with certain key skills, including emotional intelligence and good communication. And because of that, 93% of recruiting managers are citing soft skills as a vital factor in hiring decisions. But is that enough?
Traditionally, skills have been broken down in two main categories: hard skills and soft skills. But ‘soft skills’ come with baggage. Due to their complexity, they’ve been seen as notoriously difficult for an individual to develop and even harder for an organisation to train. Also, measuring soft skills is not an easy task, as success indicators can be much more nuanced and it’s down to the individual or organisation to set goals, track results and keep raising the bar over time. Indeed, the very term ‘soft’ seems nebulous and insubstantial when set against ‘hard’ skills.
The rise of the ‘power’ skills
In reaction to this, the term ‘power skills’ has been gaining credence in place of ‘soft’. Power skills are the clearly defined, essential ‘soft’ skills needed to drive your business forward. And to leverage that metaphor: if hard skills are your cars engine, and soft skills are the oil needed to keep that engine running, power skills are not just any engine oil… Power skills are Mobil 1 Extended Performance engine oil, awarded Best Advanced Synthetic Motor Oil 2022 by Forbes Wheels.
Perhaps a laboured metaphor, but business is about both focus and performance. If an organisation can clearly define and articulate the mix of power skills it needs, then it has a fighting chance of focusing both its recruitment – and more likely – it learning and development strategy around them.
The skills agenda
And the rewards are there to be had. Whilst hard technical skills frequently only apply to one function, power skills are transferable. They boost an individual’s overall flexibility and agility.
By way of example, a Gallup study showed that collaboration and effective communication are essential skills that companies must cultivate to generate organic growth. Effective communication is also closely tied to successful teamworking and a positive workplace culture. Communication skills also encompass active listening and being willing to participate in conflict resolution, all of which combine to overcome the negative impacts of miscommunications, maintain the progress of projects and meet business goals.
Teams are proven to succeed when the members feel that their leader has their best interests in mind. In fact, Harvard Business Review recently surveyed over 1,000 executives, 91% of which stated compassion is an essential leadership trait and 80% indicated they would like to improve this in themselves. Collaboration is already recognised as a critical power skill in the modern workplace, and research demonstrates that organisations with more compassionate leaders excel in this area.
Developing power skills
But we know there is no magic elixir that will instantly improve your employees power skills. Unfortunately, attending a single-day course on ‘mastering adaptability’ won’t make you a master in the subject, trust me. So what will?
Commitment. Both organisational and individual.
Estimates of the time required to acquire a new skill vary from 20 hours to 6 months up to the extreme of 10,000 hours! Of course, it depends upon the nature of the skill, but even at the lower end it’s vital that an organisations training and learning culture is built to allow employees to develop these skills over time.
To get you going, you need to explore your organisation’s internal landscape and whether it’s built to cultivate a culture of innovation. And digital solutions have a huge part to play – they can accelerate skills acquisition and provide an environment for practice! But to explore this in more detail check out our webinar, ‘3 ways to help accelerate skills acquisition’.
We don’t pretend its easy, though. Possibly the biggest challenge is the shift in mindset required. If ‘soft skills’ are going to be where a business can gain competitive advantage, their development must be integral to the wider business goals and not just an afterthought. Perhaps that is the real ‘power’ of power skills – the very term can help build that change in mindset.
And if one particular organisation doesn’t take it seriously, there are plenty of its competitors who will. And we’ve certainly seen a positive upswing in organisations looking to make that leap. So much so, that the global market for soft skills training reached US$23.64 billion last year and that number is predicted to double by 2027. By receiving guidance from others, through training and mentoring, employees can master power skills with more ease.
Well, the hard truth is there is no escaping it, the world of work is constantly changing and companies are tending to lean towards employees with efficient power skills because of the benefits they bring. Yes, hiring someone that has these attributes can be good for the organisation, but reskilling the workforce that you already have can often be cheaper, more effective and garner an increased long-term return on investment. Digital learning can be a fantastic foundation for an individual to begin their reskilling journey – offering the ability to assess, track and acquire new skills often from one neat package. But with digital disruption continuing to wreak havoc, there’s no rest for the wicked! It’s vital that you identify the missing link in your skills strategy and arm your workforce with the multi-dimensional skillsets vital for survival.