Soft Skills Extremely Important As Machines Take Over Work


Organisations need to align its workforce with their vision to grow and sustain over a longer period. Sometimes, in trying to improve an organisations numbers, engagement takes a back seat.

Ercell Charles, Vice President of Training, Dale Carnegie & Associates talks about managing employees with both technical and soft skills, leaders driving the workforce and organisations of the future. Edited Excerpts:

How should companies manage employees during the crisis? Is employee engagement really a thing now?

Having an engaged workforce is a competitive advantage that provides concrete results in terms of lower turnover and absenteeism, better customer metrics, and higher productivity and profitability, among others. To make it happen, it’s critical that organizations enable their leaders to make engaging their teams a daily priority. In times of crisis, it’s easy for leaders to neglect employee engagement in favour of other strategic concerns. It’s important that leaders not give in to that temptation at a time when they need an engaged workforce most. Our research shows that when leaders maintain a culture of engagement, treat engagement as they would any critical initiative, and provide the skills and training managers need to be able to engage their teams, engagement levels rise. For this to occur, leaders must spend more time developing trust with their employees.

Employee engagement remains one of the most important objectives of senior leaders today. In fact, according to a report from Deloitte 85 per cent of company leaders said that employee engagement is an important strategic priority. However, we found in our own research that just 31 per cent of front-line employees and managers strongly agreed that their organisation is actually making engagement a top priority – and this gap is evident in the flat engagement scores most industries have seen over recent years.

As the future of work changes, will skills take a front seat against credentials?

Skills, particularly soft skills, are already taking a front seat in many organizations. Companies such as Siemens, Apple, Google and others are now focusing on hiring for soft skills, which typically encompass interpersonal and communications skills. These skills are generally categorized as social intelligence. We know that social intelligence, along with emotional intelligence, often has little to do with official credentials.

Google, for example, is no longer hiring primarily for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, despite being a company built around technological know-how. Their research findings from an initiative called Project Oxygen found that the top skills employees needed to be successful at Google were all soft skills – having empathy, being a good listener, supporting colleagues, critical thinking, etc.

And as the use of Artificial Intelligence continues to expand in the workplace, taking on the repetitive and predictable tasks, human employees will increasingly be expected to contribute in the areas where machines are less able: soft skills and creativity.

Does humility make for a good leader? How should companies groom future leaders?

In a research study recently conducted by Dale Carnegie, we found that employees who work for humble leaders, those who are more open to criticism, admitting mistakes, making time for people and who listen more than they talk, are more likely to recommend their team to others as a place to work, continue working at the company for the long-term and are more likely to care deeply about their job. Any leadership development program, in our opinion, should incorporate those behaviours that enable leaders to demonstrate humility.

Indeed, in an era where hubris is rewarded in business, politics and social media; developing and attracting leaders with attributes centred on humility will be critical for organizations hoping to build strong cultures and elevate employee engagement.

What will define organizations of the future? How will the future of work shape up?

Artificial Intelligence has an immense role to play in defining organizations of the future. As more work becomes automated, organizations will need to redefine entire job categories and ensure people have the skills required for those roles. No profession or industry will remain untouched. Once predictable and routine tasks are automated, the human requirements will be all that is left over. What are the implications? In the foreseeable future, there will continue to be a need for humans to do the critical, non-routine decision-making, so the value that human capital will bring to the human-machine partnerships that get work done will be based on having excellent communications skills, empathy, and contextual understanding of social and culture situations along with critical thinking and problem-solving. That’s where humans will still be key to driving the success of organizations, rather than machines.

How can organizations lead in reducing the skill gap both for the employees and the organization?

Employees understand which skills they need. Dale Carnegie & Associates found that 63 per cent of respondents believe that it will be soft skills, not hard ones, that are more likely to be needed in the future to avoid job loss to AI. Investing in comprehensive training programs that meet the learner where they are to deliver the job skills people are demanding will be important for retention and building organizational capability. With all the advancements in technology and the global workplace, skills around trust building, collaboration, and communication are now more important than ever before.

What are the challenges for employers to upskill their workforce?

One of the biggest challenges to any major initiative, including upskilling a workforce, is resistance to change. Leaders today need to be highly-skilled in leading change without resistance or resentment. Leaders and organisations must invest in motivating, coaching and equipping their employees with skills which support their corporate culture.

Finally, another big challenge will be in figuring out how to provide the training employees need, when they need it and how they want to consume it. As employees coming into the workforce today seek to take responsibility for and control over their professional and personal development, it will be incumbent upon L&D organizations to meet employees where they are. That will involve not only understanding employees – what, how and when they want to learn – but it will require a content and technology strategy that will allow them to optimally deliver those skills.


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