Soft skills in HR need a reboot, here’s why

The technology revolution of the past 12 years or so has brought huge benefits for organisations and the people who work in them 

We are spoilt for choice with a myriad of applications that improve performance, efficiency, customer communication, and free up employees and those who manage them to work smarter. But there is a flip side. In the same period, we have seen a rise in employee burn-out, and a surge in opinion that bemoans the always-on world of work and the stresses it creates.

How we use technology, and especially the devices we hold in our hands or on our laps, is very much a matter of personal choice. But like any new toy, it’s only once the novelty has worn off that we gradually learn to be better at controlling what we use it for and how frequently. We are now learning when to put devices to sleep and that stroking the screen on a smartphone when we wake, rather than the person lying next to us, is going to create distance in every aspect of our lives, not intimacy.

Artificial intelligence is the coming new wave set to precipitate even more profound change. It’s easy to get lost in the hype, but it is just what it says it is, artificial. Unlike a human, it is not a being, it doesn’t experience, it has no emotions, it is not moved by beauty, by music or a work of art and it can’t be inspired, or understand joy or sadness. In the rush to embrace technology, the soft skills of social interaction need a reboot and we need to ensure these skills don’t take a back seat.

Humans and human soft skills still fundamental to business

Algorithms are great, but they also need people to create, manage and market them. More than ever we need people in our organisations who can communicate with another human being; people who can communicate in writing, people capable of paying attention, of patience, of compassion, and people who really know how to have a conversation.

These are the soft skills urgently needed by the next generation of leaders and managers in business. The skills we need to see in employees and the skills that are becoming all too scarce in a world where communication by chat message to the person sitting at the desk opposite is the norm.

We all know the new generations coming into the workforce are looking for purpose. They seek self-actualisation in their work and expect to experience personal growth. They are asking themselves, does work do something for the greater good and not just for the shareholder or the company owners? We can also see that they crave the security of belonging. Fostering workplace cultures that are inclusive also means building relationships with employees; something algorithms simply can’t do.

Transformation can’t happen without communication soft skills 

It’s a given that change and transformation won’t work without the soft skills of clear, effective and empathetic communication; ask any good change manager. In an era when organisations need to be agile, responsive to rapid change and marketplace disruption, we need the same level of employee buy-in as we do when we bring in process change.

The importance of soft skills is clear in the conversations UNLEASH has been having with the many influencers, chief executives and chief human resources officers we work with. People such as Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Esther Perel, Sir Ken Robinson, Matthieu Ricard and Simon Sinek, to name a few.

As we move ahead into the third decade of the 21st century, technology will change not just the world of work, but also society and the way it is governed. The need for knowledgeable workers who have the necessary soft skills to communicate has never been greater.