As we examine the future of work, change is the only constant for organizations everywhere. With increased automation and advanced technology (including artificial intelligence), skills that were once considered critical competencies are often nullified within five years. Remote work and the pandemic have also shifted our methods of communication and collaboration, causing teams that didn’t adjust well to be less effective. With no sign of slowing down, many leaders are left wondering: what practical skills will be consistently reliable in this tumultuous period?
The solution many top-performing companies have turned to is the development of human-centric skills (aka “soft skills”) that technology can’t replace just yet, like creativity and empathy. These skills have become especially necessary in growing tech industries, where up-and-coming leaders are talented but lack the communication techniques required to inspire strong teams. When applied by leadership in the workplace, human centricity can also result in a workplace culture shift, where employees are happier and gain more personal fulfilment from their jobs. Leaders who build these human-centric workplaces can inspire higher productivity, leading to a greater output, talent pool and overall performance.
When building a human-centric workforce, what new skills should leaders focus on? Check out these five human-centric skills, which act as a guide to keeping organizations relevant.
Peter Senge, one of the pioneers of learning and development, coined the term “Personal Mastery” to explain an innate desire to learn and better oneself. He considered this to be the first pillar of learning and development because workers with personal mastery will constantly push themselves to become well-rounded individuals, rather than mastering one skill and never striving for more. Leaders who adopt this growth mindset set an example for their teams, encouraging each member to consistently train and develop themselves as well. Organizations can encourage a culture of personal mastery by offering their people time during the work week to invest in topics that spark curiosity. Encouraging personal mastery is essential to organizational growth because at the core, employees are the organization. To be employee-centric is to be human-centric, and leaders that invest in themselves and their talent create a culture of growth that can flexibly adapt to an ever-changing future.
With the sudden shift to hybrid and remote work, communication styles in the workplace have shifted. Many of the ways in which leaders initiated bonding in-person have been eliminated, and more frequent video conferences cause too much fatigue to make up the difference. However, strong communicators can recognize and respond to these problems by adapting their knowledge to the situation at hand. For example, a leader may notice that an introverted team member doesn’t speak up during synchronous video conferences. They might try posing questions in the team’s discussion board beforehand so that the employee can prepare their responses and contribute their ideas asynchronously. This allows for a greater diversity of ideas and supports thoughtful team discussions. This ability to observe and adapt is the root of why human-centric skills are a great investment for leadership.
Another arena in which communication skills have historically been ignored is in tech. These professions are often highly specific, utilize a great deal of nuanced language and require mostly independent work. If an IT leader has practiced explaining complex concepts to fellow leaders in other departments, they can avoid wasting time with frequent misunderstandings. To ensure companies focus their energy on the most pressing issues, investing in communication skills is highly valuable.
According to DASCA’s insights report, 89% of CEOs believe big data insights are integral to maintaining their share of the market. However, 56% of those same leaders don’t think their data is trustworthy. This is because data is only useful if it is analyzed correctly. While there have been advancements in drawing conclusions through big data algorithms, the ability to think critically is a skill unique to human workers and is still necessary in final decision making. This applies to all industries with augmented workforces, since rushing to solve small problems can cause future issues if the root cause is not understood and addressed. Leaders that think critically won’t just solve problems as they appear but spend time and resources to solve the right problems, therefore increasing productivity and return on investment.
According to a recent study by Aon, employee engagement at work is 55% lower if they lack resilience. The trauma and tragedy caused by the pandemic have contributed to high levels of burnout felt by workers everywhere. When leaders face the major changes and challenges of the world today, resilience is a key skill to support the personal well-being of themselves and their employees, helping to bounce back from challenges. Resilience is also core to a team’s ability to face failure and remain engaged in the mission at hand. Teams with the mental and emotional space to rebound and learn from failure will act boldly and take innovative risks that benefit the whole company. Leaders can support the resilience of their teams by listening rather than trying to talk employees out of their feelings. They can also share information as they learn it and be transparent about not having all the answers. Teams with resilience feel more connected and engaged in the work they do, while organizations reap the rewards of increased productivity and a healthy work environment.
Empathy is the key ingredient in making products and services that consistently sell. In human-centric design (a problem-solving process that includes the end-user perspectives in every phase of product creation), employees must be good listeners, putting themselves in clients’ shoes so that they can adequately understand the problems with current designs. For example, Oral B created a child’s toothbrush by first observing the way that children brush. Noticing that children struggled with the thin handles of the adult brushes, the design team created a smaller brush with a thicker, squishier handle. By using design thinking to empathetically address the needs of these children, Oral B’s toothbrush design became the bestseller for 18 months straight. Today, when the marketplace is constantly shifting, leaders that are skilled in empathy will constantly search for the most effective solutions for customers, allowing the organization to create cutting-edge innovations that blow competition out of the water.
The constant changes the business world is facing can be disorienting. Leaders and employers are often left to wonder what skills they can invest in that will last more than a few years as the skills gap in the workforce widens. However, by investing in human-centric skills, companies can build a culture that puts their people first, forming teams that can roll with the punches and keep pressing towards a brighter future. Eventually, these changes will lead to the innovations that open new doors of possibility for all.
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