It’s Time to Reframe Soft Skills as Power Skills

It’s time for business leaders to appreciate the impact of soft skills on the bottom line. There’s hidden gold in the nontechnical skills that can help leaders and managers reach their goals through better communication, collaboration, and conflict management.

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Let’s Define “Soft Skills” and Why They Matter

Soft skills” are behaviors, personality traits, and work habits that help people thrive in their jobs. They’re things like resilience, collaboration, critical thinking, perseverance, and communication. SMHR suggests thinking of the importance of soft skills like this: A talented graphic designer might wow people with her creations. But if she’s constantly missing deadlines or not listening to and accepting feedback, she’ll create costly project delays or anger clients. Those projects — and her career — could easily stall, maybe even die on the vine.

In short, the lack of soft skills can easily hobble someone who has solid technical expertise. And it’s costing companies time and money.

In its “Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap,” IBM’s Institute for Business Value concluded today’s workforce requires more than just technical or basic business skills. Professionals also need “softer” capabilities — an adaptive mindset, collaboration, and strategic communication skills — to be successful in their careers.

Consider this: 89% of recruiters say that when a hire doesn’t work out, the reason usually comes down to a lack of soft skills (LinkedIn’s “ 2019 Global Talent Trends” report).

No wonder many employers — your competition most likely among them — are prioritizing uncovering soft skills during hiring. The top skills employers want in new hires are soft skills such as dependability, teamwork/collaboration, flexibility, and problem-solving, according to Monster’s “The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook.

Soft Skills Meet Today’s Changing
Business Needs

The pandemic didn’t teach business that change is constant, but it sure drove the lesson home. It drove home the reality of digital transformation in a very real, very sudden way. It also proved that employees in nearly every industry and in companies of any size are more likely to thrive if they are adaptive, agile, nimble, and poised for change.

Changes in Technology Are Driving the Need for Soft Skills

The digital workplace is evolving by the minute, and AI and other forms of technology continue to advance in terms of emotional intelligence. No matter what segment of technology or business you’re operating in, it’s become increasingly important to have a solid mix of technical and soft skills to stay current. Consider developing some of the six soft skills recommended by Future of Work to enhance the use of changing technology:

  1. Contextualization — to know how your data can solve your business problems (as much as AI can target issues, it can’t tell you how to solve them)
  2. Critical thinking — to keep from being blinded by the magic of big data and creating blind spots in your thinking
  3. Curiosity — to continue learning and finding relevant ways to use your technical skills to move your company forward
  4. Creativity — to think beyond data and make it inspirational, and to envision new ways to use data to personalize and energize communication to leaders, colleagues, and customers
  5. Ethical judgment — to develop standards for your company and protect your brand and culture (because no matter how good it is, AI can’t determine right from wrong)
  6. Communication — ideas are nothing if you can’t use them to tell a story that resonates with your audience and persuades them to take the action you want

Changes in Employee Demographics Are Driving the Need for Soft Skills

For the first time, we have four generations in the workplace. And with the accelerating trend toward hybrid work, we also have more people working remotely, more global hiring, and a changing ratio of age groups in the workforce (as more baby boomers retire early in response to the pandemic). It’s critical that leaders, managers, and employees have the necessary skills to manage work in new ways. That’s where soft skills come in.

Fostering collaboration and productivity in a more diverse workforce requires soft skills in at least five areas:

  1. Resilience and adaptability — to be able to change, learn, and grow
  2. Collaboration and diversity — to share expertise, perspective, and ideas, and build trust, community, and connection
  3. Interpersonal communication — to get your message across, regardless of whether it’s in an email, a presentation, a memo, or any
  4. Creativity — to think beyond data and make it inspirational, and to envision new ways to use data to personalize and energize communication to leaders, colleagues, and customers
  5. Professionalism — to ensure your work is valued, you have credibility, and your voice is heard in your organization
  6. Leadership — to take responsibility for your work, feel confident, and gain support from others, regardless of your title or role

Practicing Soft Skills in Today’s More Accessible, More Flexible Work Environments

The importance of soft skills is also reflected in the increase of corporate academies and the types of learning they can offer. Unlike traditional corporate learning, these use a mix of resources and are ideally suited to enhancing soft skills for leaders and managers. Even if they’re not part of a formal corporate academy, new ways of learning can enhance and sharpen soft skills as efficiently and effectively as traditional corporate learning methods.

Shared Learning With Internal or External Leaders and Experts

With shared learning, people work as a team to achieve a common objective, sharing their knowledge and complementing each other’s skills to see better results and hit goals faster than if they kept their knowledge to themselves. Three other great benefits of knowledge sharing include:

  1. Being able to capture explicit and tacit knowledge— the know how inside someone’s brain — and eventually reduce the amount of knowledge and soft skills leaving the organization
  2. Making scarce expertise and insight into soft skills widely available to your entire workforce
  3. Becoming more accessible, thanks to peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing platforms and similar online tools

Learning Experiences

Experiential learning — aka learning experiences — let employees put new skills into action on the job, in their everyday work. It’s a great way to learn and practice soft skills. In fact, the concept of gaining soft skills through on-the-job learning experiences is at the heart of what HR industry analyst Josh Bersin says is a major shift away from prioritizing technical and functional skills to instead focusing on helping employees hone “business capabilities.”

It’s the difference between teaching customer service representatives how to use the phone response system and standard scripts, and instead teaching them how to empathize with customers, communicate more clearly, better explain and illustrate your company’s products or policies, and be better brand ambassadors.

Personalized Microlearning

Personalized microlearning gives employees more control by offering continuous, on-demand, and often bite-size lessons. You can also add or change learning content as you need and automatically distribute offerings to learners who need it, when they need it, wherever they are.

The potential for teaching soft skills is immense when you consider what this type of learning means:

  1. Personalized — It’s self-directed to suit the needs and preferences of your organization (or even just one business unit or team).
  2. Micro — Content is more targeted, flexible, and adaptable in terms of
    its scale and duration, and is offered on a platform that supports multiformat, multi-device learning.
  3. Learner controlled — Relinquish monitoring and tracking, and instead facilitate motivated learning for on-the-job capabilities.


Because of its one-to-one dynamic, coaching is tailor-made for teaching soft skills. But you can also partner with a communication skills provider that offers group training and arms learners (and their managers!) with tools to make coaching easy and resources to make the concepts stick well beyond the workshop. This approach provides ongoing reinforcement of skills through oneon-one or group coaching. It also has added benefits like:

  1. Sharing knowledge your organization already has.It’s another form of shared learning, rather than buying learning programs and software.
  2. Delivering coaching by people who already know the company culture and its business needs. Even the best outside trainers will need some time to learn your culture and strategic goals.
  3. Having coaches available in the flow of work.Manager and peer coaching enables faster feedback, more ready support, and the application of teaching on the job.

Capstone Projects

Similar to how they’re used in college coursework, capstone projects in business deploy teams to develop a real-world solution for a very real business challenge. The method is not only great for teaching soft skills, it’s also been used in undergraduate IT departments for over a decade specifically for that purpose — by embedding soft skills requirements into the projects.

Typical soft skills taught through IT capstone projects include capabilities that extend across departments and are valuable in most areas of any organization:

  1. Communication
  2. Presentation
  3. Documentation
  4. Research
  5. Handling tough challenges
  6. Time management

Communication: The Soft Skill That Runs Through All the Others

If you look at all the soft skills, you’ll see one that inherently flows through all the rest: communication.

Maybe you need your leaders to be more responsive to different audiences as your workforce becomes more remote and more diverse. Maybe you need managers to communicate insights more clearly or be more agile in the face of change. Maybe you need your people to collaborate more efficiently and effectively, tear down silos, or find new solutions to company challenges. In each of those cases, the outcomes are far more likely to succeed when they’re supported by good communication.

But what is “good communication”? In essence, it’s sharing an idea and moving it into action and co-creation. Fortunately, that’s an easily teachable soft skill that is a goldmine for increasing productive collaboration and connectedness. And good communication will drive dramatic gains in almost every other soft skill an employee is developing.

In the words of Theo Gold, author of Positive Thinking: Change Your Attitude, Change Your Life!, “Communication is your ticket to success, if you pay attention and learn to do it effectively.”

The most effective way to communicate is to learn how to tell a compelling story — to connect with your audience and move them to action. That, in a nutshell, is the heart of great communication.

Done right, storytelling — an undeniably powerful soft skill — can deliver critical personal and business advantages while enhancing many other soft skills. Regardless of the format, from a high-stakes email to a formal presentation to the C-suite, great storytelling can:

  1. Boost your executive presence
  2. Make it easy to address diverse audiences
  3. Elevate the meaning of your data
  4. Increase cross-functional collaboration and communication
  5. Give your audience a reason to care, because you’ve reflected on thier unique prospective, needs and priorities
  6. Focus your ideas and cut through the noise
  7. Help you choose relevant visuals
  8. Humanize your message by putting your audience at the center of your communications
  9. Provide guardrails for staying on track and keeping your meeting or presentation for getting highjacked
  10. Offer flexibility and help you be nimble in unexpected or difficult situations
  11. Prevent “freeze-ups” during any kind of live communication
  12. Catapult your career by presenting ideas and information more clearly
  13. Save you and your organization time and money by giving you a framework and common language for employees to develop, review, and edit communications

Great communication will enhance every other soft skill. And the proven best way to communicate with any audience, in any situation, is through great storytelling. One could argue that great storytelling is a very valuable soft skill in its own right.

In fact, business storytelling is now the one critical skill that’s increasingly being recognized as essential for capabilities fluency – the accelerant needed for career growth and success today. If that interests you, read more about it here.

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