In today’s workplace, human skills have become more vital than ever. That’s partly because they’re becoming recognized for their value. Organizations are realizing that high performers usually have these skills in abundance. Additionally, technological changes have made types of skills more central.
But what exactly are human skills, and why are they so important? And how does technology fit into the picture? Read on as we tackle these questions.
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The Power of Human Skills
The term “soft skills” is a misnomer, though it’s traditionally been used to refer to human skills. It presents them as “fluff”—something easy to cultivate and not especially important. In reality, they’re quickly becoming the most valued skills across industries, and they take effort to grow. So, many experts now call them “power skills” or simply “human skills,” as Forbes writes.
Why are they so important?
First, good use of interpersonal skills, like communication, builds trust. Everything else that happens on a team hinges on that. For example, leaders must communicate consistently, honestly, and compassionately to create trust, says Gallup.
Further, communication on virtual and hybrid teams tends to require more effort. We can’t always see body language in meetings, and we use lots of written communication. Forming relationships takes more intentional effort. So, we need to hone our human skills to forge strong bonds and understanding.
Plus, an MIT Sloan study found that even in factories, these particular skills can quickly boost ROI. When workers at five factories in Bangalore gained problem-solving, decision-making, and communication training, ROI jumped by 250% in just right months, reports Forbes. Why? Productivity rose, turnaround for complex duties increased, and attendance improved.
The Different Types of Human Skills
First, let’s take a look at a helpful tool for understanding this range of different skills. Then, we’ll break down which ones are most crucial to develop at different levels.
The Human Skills Matrix
A division of MIT has created a tool called the human skills matrix. Generally, they fall into four dimensions, it illustrates:
- Managing ourselves
Thinking includes critical thinking, creativity, entrepreneurship, ethics, systems thinking, comfort with ambiguity, and a growth mindset.
Interacting includes communication, collaboration, empathy, negotiation, and relationship curation.
Managing ourselves includes self-awareness, accountability, adaptability, planning and organization, persistence, professionalism, initiative, and integrity.
Leading includes strategic vision, empowerment of others, project management, and performance management.
This set of nontechnical skills will prove highly durable, its creators assert. These skills cannot be automated and will benefit employees at all levels. They’re particularly critical in helping managers and leaders to excel.
Human Skills for Employees
Among employees, the top 3 skills that are missing include the following, says McKinsey:
- Problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity (37% of HR staff have trouble recruiting candidates with these skills).
- Handling complexity and ambiguity (32% of HR staff report challenges with recruiting for these skills).
- Communication (31% of HR staff struggle to find candidates with this skill).
These human skills are core to any role. Employees also need self-awareness, ability to influence, and learning agility, adds the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). Along with communication, these make up the “fundamental four” leadership skills that all employees need, they note.
Human Skills for Managers
- Learning agility
- Political savvy
- Ability to motivate others
- Ability to influence outcomes
Further, mid-level managers need an expanded skill set. The core skills they must develop include resiliency, allowing them to manage increasing pressure. They must also hone their ability to think and act in terms of systems. This means understanding how different aspects of operations can work together.
Now, let’s turn to the core skills of senior leaders, like CEOs.
Human Skills for Executives
At one time, organizations viewed the management of finances and operations as the most central skill for CEOs. While it remains essential, human skills have claimed the central spot, writes HBR. This includes skills like the following:
- Inferring how others feel
- Working with people of various backgrounds
A high level of collaboration and ability to engage others, drive results, and recognize opportunities for innovation are also crucial, notes CCL.
Improving diversity and inclusion acts as one driver of the increased focus on social skills among senior leaders, HBR notes. Further, executives are gaining greater visibility as companies build a presence on social media. Given the megaphone they now speak through, they need to display excellent human skills.
Plus, companies are simply realizing how these skills benefit all dimensions of work.
“The evolution of skills requirements in the C-suite parallels developments in the workforce as a whole,” write the authors. “At all employment levels today, more and more jobs require highly developed social skills.” And compensation for such jobs is rising in turn, they add.
Guide your organization to use human skills criteria like these when making hiring decisions. You’ll then choose the people with the most to contribute.
Now, let’s consider how to enhance these skills—for yourself or your employees.
How to Improve Your Human Skills
Improve your skills (or help employees enhance theirs) in several ways, as follows.
Every workplace should provide training in human skills to employees and leaders. This type of training will prepare them for long-term success. Provide workshops tailored to employees, managers, and leaders. These sessions can dig into topics like emotional intelligence, compassionate communication, and self-management.
If you’re an employee, ask for these opportunities and take advantage of them.
A good mentor will both coach and demonstrate how to use interpersonal skills. Find a mentor in your organization (or pair employees up with mentors) who exemplify human skills. You’ll receive advice tailored to how you need to grow, and you’ll observe your skills in action.
Conducting 360 reviews can provide clarity on where you need to grow. If you’re an employee, ask your HR department about this! And if you’re an HR manager, consider conducting them periodically for all employees.
Through 360 reviews, you can also identify skills gaps in your organization. You’ll learn what type of human skills and talent you most need to cultivate and hire for.
These self-evaluations can highlight areas for growth, as Jeff Tan writes in HBR. He cites the Big 5 Inventory and NEO Personality Inventory as two useful ones. Such assessments can help you grow your emotional intelligence as a whole, along with many specific human skills, by determining areas for growth.
How can you highlight your these skills? Through everyday interactions with your peers, leaders, clients, and others you work with. If you’ve ever helped the group solve a problem or given your best effort on collaborative assignments, you’re showing human skills.
Choose any skill from the matrix mentioned above and work to display it in group projects and meetings. You’ll probably find many opportunities to let it shine!
Performance Management Tools
Through performance management software, employees can track progress toward the growth of social skills. A good system provides insights into how employees measure up in terms of human skills. Using analytics, it will highlight where they need to grow and where they’re excelling.
The Relationship Between Human Skills and Technology
How does technology influence human skills? Today, most companies have access to a wealth of high-tech tools, notes HBR. They use the same social media platforms and marketplaces. And complex analytics are growing highly accessible as well. Human skills then become the key differentiator between companies.
Those who manage people well and instill these skills in employees have a sizable advantage.
Today’s organizations are adopting technologies to help with everyday tasks—including complex analysis. This gives employees and leaders more opportunity to focus on the human element of their job. As a result, our workforces could become more adept in human skills than ever before.
Plus, they won’t be replaced by technology in the coming years, as the creators of the Human Skills Matrix note. While many tasks can be automated, human skills cannot. So, gaining interpersonal skills will boost job security for employees.
By cultivating human skills, your workforce will become your competitive advantage. Use the above strategies to help each employee develop a well-rounded range of these skills. As a result, teams will function at their very best. Plus, each employee will be prepared for new levels of success.
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