Times change, but the importance of certain skills remains the same. It's in the data: annual surveys by platforms such as LinkedIn and Udemy shows that the soft skills demanded by businesses have remained largely consistent over the years. If terms such as creativity, collaboration, adaptability, time management, or emotional intelligence, among others, seem very familiar, it's because these repeatedly appear among the top soft skills companies look for each year. The
2020's crisis underscores this even further. Last year, as digitalization went from a long-term plan to a short-term critical requirement, the demand for hard technology skills, in particular IT skills, definitely went through the roof and has stayed there since. But at the same time, discussions of people management, from leadership to productivity to culture to simple things like interacting with team members, became dominated by concepts such as empathy, resilience, and good communication. These aren't new skills. Their value has been known for a long, long time—just not emphasized quite as much.
Why the focus on soft skills? Quite simply, it benefits organizations and individuals. At the organizational level, a workforce that can communicate, collaborate, and adapt well to change will always be a competitive advantage. At the individual level, soft skills have been found to improve people's internal mobility—something that LinkedIn research shows can convince people to stay in their job for up to 41 percent longer than they otherwise would, creating a double benefit for the organization as well.
So, how effectively are we acquiring these skills?
The hiring and onboarding field has long since recognized the role of soft skills in helping organizations keep up with change. Research by psychometrics firm pymetrics shows that 92 percent of talent professionals and hiring managers say they consider soft skills at least as important as hard skills, and 89 percent of HR leaders believe that if a new hire fails at the role, it's more likely to have been because the person's soft skills were not a fit for the job.
But at the same time, there seems to be a lack of knowledge around how to actually acquire those skills. According to figures from Deloitte Human Capital Research, 59 percent of organizations apparently lack the data to deal with the need for soft skills. LinkedIn research shows that most companies do not have a way to formally assess soft skills, with talent professionals instead relying on social cues or “gut feel” for their evaluations. Perhaps as a result, almost as many companies have trouble assessing soft skills accurately.
“ I think part of the problem is that our legacy HR practices are suboptimal for understanding somebody's soft skill profile,” observes Frida Polli, CEO of pymetrics. “People are trying to glean these soft skills from a resume, which is essentially a document of hard skills.”
Is there a better approach?
A growing number of companies are embedding soft skills into their competency framework, treating them as core competencies just as much as technical skills. In doing so, they are redesigning jobs to better leverage upon and account for these soft skills, and also redesigning the way the jobs are communicated to the talent pool: clearly identifying in job listings that certain soft skills are needed, using these skills as the basis for career pathways, and of course, establishing formal structures and processes for the measurement and evaluation of soft skills.
Many companies use similar toolboxes: tests for behavioral tendencies and situational judgement, problem-solving questions, and even self-assessments. For instance, Shell's talent acquisition professionals use a mix of tests to collect evidence-based data on candidates' soft skills.
Training for soft skills is also getting more attention, with organizations adding socio-emotional skill-focused courses and programs to their L&D repertoire. Some companies are even taking it a step further and forming partnerships with educational institutions to train employees in soft skills, an approach more often used for technical skills. Mastercard, for example, last year launched a learning partnership with the National University of Singapore, and is concentrating on soft skills development for its early career talent.
Interested in finding out more about how to evaluate, acquire, and train soft skills? This coming April 8, People Matters and pymetrics are hosting a panel discussion on the role that soft skills play in handling volatility and change, and how companies are carrying out their own assessments of soft skills and leveraging these skills for organizational transformation and success. Watch this space for the details.