Quantifying the Unquantifiable: The Low Down on Soft Skills

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Quantifying the Unquantifiable: The Low Down on Soft Skills

This is a guest post from Sophie J. Parker. Sophie blogs over at Surehand, where industrial safety professionals can find their perfect job. It is her aim to help create a safer world, one inspector at a time.

There’s a piece of advice anyone who’s ever looked for work or a promotion has heard at some point.

Develop your soft skills.

Soft skills are skills that enable you to succeed in a range of environments. They include personality traits and attributes, people skills, social skills and more.

Soft skills have slowly risen from accessory ornaments at the end of a great CV to prominence. Changes in the way markets and companies operate in the digital age made non-technical skills crucial.

As fields are taken over by new ways of operating, many technical qualifications are now obsolete. Adaptability, creativity, and willingness to learn went from perks to requisites for survival in ever-evolving markets.

Now, soft skills are at the forefront of requirements for many new positions and divisions. The professional profile companies seek to fill is increasingly centered on these skills.

In a few decades, “develop your soft skills” went from generic advice to thoughtful counsel. In this article, we’ll go over the reasons these skills are in such demand.

We’ll also list the most popular soft skills for employers in 2020. Finally, we’ll discuss some of the metrics available to measure these skills in the workplace.

Soft Skills In Hard Markets

Soft vs Hard Skills: Old School Wisdom

Traditionally, soft skills were considered more as perks than prerequisites. These skills were considered inherently unmeasurable. Hard skills could be trained and measured.

To the first generations of management thinkers, hard skills seemed like a better horse to bet on. Time wound up proving them very wrong.

Hard skills may have been easier to measure, but they also proved more rigid. Specializing in hard skills made workers harder to adapt to new positions.

This would be a crucial shortcoming.

The Age of Disruption

As technological advancements have continued relentlessly, many markets were deeply disrupted. Whole industries rose out of seemingly nowhere.

Many roles and departments that are vital today didn’t exist a decade or two ago. Companies struggle to find professionals to perform at a high level in novel fields.

Both market disruptors and well-established companies see their hierarchies affected. Startups and large players have different priorities, but both require soft skills.

Different Priorities

Startups need to hire people that have the hard skills they need at the moment. At the same time, they need employees with the non-technical skills required to handle growth down the road.

Hard skills put food on the table, but it’s soft skills that keep that table getting bigger. Soft skills in your staff mean that a better workplace culture can flourish. This, in turn, leads to companies that grow sustainably, with higher rates of productivity.

Then, there are the big players. Well-established market titans that put too much stock in hard skills become sluggish.

Social and communication skills allow key staff to develop inter-departmental synergy. Understanding the human factor makes it easier for large companies to react to disruption.

Soft Skill Metrics

The key drawback to soft skills is the lack of data to measure their effectiveness in any given situation. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. That statement may have been a fact decades ago, but social sciences have come a long way since then.

Qualitative methodologies have been refined by social psychologists, sociologists, and other experts. Decades of research have developed an ample array of tools to measure non-technical skills. Their accuracy and predictive power are now settled matters in academia.

The ivory towers of academia are far removed from the gritty world of business, though. Distilled techniques in controlled settings are one thing; effective workplace metrics are another. Can these methods be used in a real-world workplace, fruitfully?

The answer is a resounding yes. Here are just a few ways to do it.

Behavioral interviewing

Behavioral interviews focus on the way candidates act in situations. Rather than current or past performance, they use hypotheticals to identify specific skills.

Soft skills-based rubrics

Rubrics are grid-based tools that feature key criteria for employee performance. They allow assessment and scoring on a number of attributes and scales. They should be customized for every role in the company.

Feedback surveys

Questionnaires and surveys can help identify issues stemming from non-technical skill scarcity. Falling levels of employee satisfaction, communication problems and leadership issues are well-captured by questionnaires.

Surveys are also crucial to measure how effective skill training is. Without feedback from colleagues, supervisors, subordinates, and clients it’s impossible to track progress.

Most Valued Soft Skills

Times are changing, especially in the corporate land. As science begins to catch up to the realities of non-technical skills, companies are wising up.

Recruiters now seek and weed out candidates based on their non-technical skills, or lack thereof. The following are the five most in-demand soft skills companies are looking for right now.

5. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to accurately identify emotions in yourself and others. It is the non-technical skill’s jack-of-all-trades. It works as a bedrock upon which all other skills can be built.

Its presence is insufficient to determine that a candidate is most desirable. Its absence is a red flag, though. Companies need people capable of maturity and empathy.

4. Adaptability

Adaptability is the capacity to change one’s behavior and assumptions in a fast and fluid way. In the age of disruption, adaptability is just what the doctor prescribed. Companies need employees who can adjust to new realities without skipping a beat.

Adaptability doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of employees, though. There is a lot that an organization can do (or fail to do) to foster or hinder adaptability.

3. Collaboration

Companies have staked a lot on creating competitiveness between coworkers. It’s collaboration, however, that has proven to be the superior skill.

Companies are built on collaboration. The capacity to cooperate seamlessly in different settings and groups is invaluable to success.

2. Persuasion

Long-considered a skill for the sales team, persuasion has a far wider reach. It’s a crucial element in effective leadership.

Great leaders must be capable of persuading their teams to follow them. Dissent is natural and healthy, but a persuasive leader fosters cohesion.

1. Creativity

Creativity is the most sought-after soft skill in new hires this year. There’s a reason for that. In an uncertain, disrupted marketplace, companies know they’ll need to get innovative to beat the competition.. Creative employees approach problems from new angles, finding clever solutions to vexing puzzles.

This trend is likely to grow more pronounced in the coming years. Technology is taking over most job functions requiring high-level hard skills. Creative employees will allow companies to implement these technologies in new and amazing ways.

Conclusion

Soft skills have reversed the tables on a decades-old narrative. Long-relegated to a minor footnote, these skills are now one of the hottest commodities.

The progress of science allows companies to measure those skills, and analyze them. For companies that have, the verdict is clear—the value of non-technical skills is a hard fact.

Companies that create a culture with soft skills at the center face considerable gains. Those that don’t may well go the way of the dodo.


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