Companies today are thinking in new and innovative ways about what makes a qualified and valuable employee. On the surface, the definition seems obvious: Someone who fits a list of professional and educational characteristics is the right fit for a particular role.
That narrow view disregards the way a modern office works, however. Someone with all the technical, “hard” knowledge to complete day-to-day duties may still fail to make a positive impact due to an inability to communicate effectively, or work productively with teammates. Interpersonal abilities and compatibility with a workplace’s unique practices and culture – these are “soft skills,” and they’ve never been more important.
Individuals looking for valuable and long-lasting roles at major organizations can benefit from making sure they have abilities that go beyond the technical, and displaying those aptitudes during the application process. HR leaders trying to build great teams can help their searches along by targeting those same skills.
Communication competency desperately needed
When a team member can’t effectively communicate ideas or make progress in a collaborative setting, the whole organization shoulders the cost. Australian educator Libby Sander, contributing to The Conversation, explained that a general failure to impart soft skills in the school system has administrators rethinking what they teach students. This scramble to get the next generation ready for office life is based on the problems being observed today.
Sander pointed to a Society for Human Resource Management study on poor communication in the workplace, which described the steep price tag of weak soft skills. At global corporations, having 100,000 employees each, miscommunication costs each business $62.4 million a year. At small, 100-person organizations, the number is $420,000 annually.
The SHRM noted that when an employee cannot communicate ideas well and work as an effective teammate, that person’s knowledge and expertise won’t do any good. Interacting with others is a key step in turning an individual’s training and background into a resource that the firm can take advantage of.
In tune with corporate culture
Another aspect of soft skills is less universal, but no less important: Employees have to attune themselves to the culture of the company they are joining and be ready to work within the day-to-day structure it presents. This is a potential challenge, as there are many different valid work styles, not all of which will be a good match for a given employee.
Business.com highlighted the ongoing importance creating a match between employee and company. Businesses with a defined culture have a few different ideas for what employees should accomplish. They may potentially want their team members to prize high efficiency above all, or be outgoing and helpful to customers. Once these ideas are codified, they give hiring managers useful criteria to find top workers, and help prospects decide whether they’ll be a good fit within a particular organization.
Sometimes, there are mismatches: Not every worker thrives in a system that prizes friendliness above all else, for instance. Companies with established cultures are better positioned than firms that can’t or won’t narrow their preferences down, however. When there is a specific list of competencies to aim for, it’s possible to determine whether a worker’s soft skills and an employer’s vision match up. Such a match is the first step to more unified and goal-oriented teamwork.
An IT must
While it may seem that highly technical fields such as IT leadership are immune to the need for soft skills, these are actually some of the areas with a great need for less hard knowledge and more personal aptitude. A recent Tech.co interview with SenecaGlobal CEO Ed Szofer revealed the veritable “crisis” that has broken out in IT departments when teams don’t have enough soft skills to pull together.
For instance, Szofer explained that an IT team with only hard skills might be focused on speed, efficiency and deploying new solutions. This looks good on paper – it’s easy to see how such a team could modernize a company, using vast reserves of tech knowledge to create more powerful processes. The other side of the coin, however, comes when it’s time to teach non-tech users to use the new solutions. Soft skills are what make new technology palatable and help employees adapt – without them, advanced solutions may go unused or be poorly understood.
Teaching and taking feedback from employees can turn a tech team into a help rather than a hindrance, and those aren’t the only interpersonal skills needed in IT. Szofer attested to the importance of saying no when requirements are unrealistic. Just as IT personnel shouldn’t spring projects on employees who aren’t ready for them, they should be comfortable enough in their own communication abilities to recognize and refuse impossible requests rather than acceding and having to deal with the fallout later.
Silos are breaking down
People who are good communicators, who are attuned with individuals throughout the company and can function well in different team configurations are ready to take on one of today’s greatest workplace movements: Increasing amounts of teamwork and collaboration. “Silo” has become a dirty word in corporate settings, but sharing of ideas across functional boundaries only works when workers can make their voices heard and understood.
The American Marketing Association’s Marketing News recently published a conversation with The Creative Group Executive Director Diane Domeyer, who confirmed that employers looking for marketers are putting emphasis on soft skills. Effectively confirming Szofer’s contention that tech personnel need to communicate well, she noted that marketing departments today work with technology professionals often, breaking down silos to push their own ideas and responsibilities forward. Over half of executives in charge of marketing and advertising now work with IT teams more than they did three years ago.
Domeyer added that while teamwork is at a premium, employees can sometimes be isolated from the nuts-and-bolts processes of collaborating and communicating with others. People are very connected digitally, and may therefore avoid hands-on teamwork. This fact has made employers more eager than ever to find individuals who do possess an aptitude for collaboration, and are able to reach out to others. Looking for soft skills is more important when hiring managers frequently encounter prospects without them.
When things go wrong
The above abilities – teamwork, alignment with a set of goals, explaining concepts across the organization – come into effect when things are going well. But what about when conflict arises between employees and there are disagreements to overcome? As it happens, this, too, is a time for soft skills. Fast Company explained that conflict resolution is itself a key ability for employees to master today, part and parcel of the communication abilities that will serve employees in good stead when the organization is thriving.
CourseHouse CEO NihalParthasarathi told Fast Company that being able to de-escalate and calm tense situations is an increasingly valued trait today, and that applies to both small, day-to-day annoyances and more significant problems. A failure to resolve a problem may cause the same general issues as a general unwillingness to communicate. When people are out of step with one another, they may neglect to share information across departments or fail to get into sync when pursuing company goals.
Parthasarathi stated that workers who are able to use their words to explain their issues are valuable to organizations today. Individuals who are prone to becoming unreasonable or escalating conflict can be a liability in their departments, even if they come with relevant hard skills. After all, if a person is fighting with co-workers, that employee’s knowledge is inaccessible and therefore a moot point. Great conflict resolution means being able to neutralize negativity rather than letting it fester.
Learning must be relevant
The lesson of the soft skills era is that there are many ways to become a more valuable employee, and numerous items to look for when hiring – and not many of them are based in technical or academic knowledge. This doesn’t mean professionals shouldn’t better themselves through advanced degrees and other forms of training – it simply puts an emphasis on gaining abilities that will help with the day-to-day realities of being a businessperson and a teammate, rather than just high-level knowledge.
A worker who can’t communicate, or won’t help an organization pursue its goals, is closed off, unable to really share expertise and help the business thrive. A corporate leader who doesn’t value soft skills is likely to end up with teams that don’t work together well, or are all pulling in different directions. The realization of these facts in recent years has pushed the value of soft skills through the roof. Now, businesses and their employees alike will have to cope with this new corporate landscape.
Technology has made it possible for individuals to neglect their soft skills for long periods of time, but they shouldn’t opt for this approach. In fact, technology is often one of the departments where interpersonal skills are most important, as every part of an organization must unite around the tech solutions that will help the company thrive.
What does Maryville University offer?
Seeking an online Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree remains one of the prime ways of preparing to move into a leading business role, or to begin one’s own organization. In today’s business environment, however, there are a few additional stipulations that come along with this education. Namely, candidates shouldn’t let their chosen degree programs get too academic, and removed from the soft skills that contribute so greatly to progress in the enterprise world.
Maryville University’s MBA program has been designed with everyday work in mind. Faculty use relevant and current conditions in global workplaces, teaching through practice, rather than hypothetical. Concentrations such as management and project management are especially focused on dealing with others in productive ways, an approach in line with what modern professionals need to succeed.