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Upskill Your Workforce with People Skills for Competitive Advantage

By Dr. Christa Uehlinger

Change is coming rapidly to the global workplace.  By 2022, the frontier between humans and machines will have shifted significantly prompting a need for a reboot of humanity.  Organizations led and managed by people who are emotionally intelligent and with strong skills in communication, intercultural competencies, complex problem solving and consensus building will differentiate themselves from their competition.  To get there, companies need to act now.

Executive Summary

  • Industrialization 4.0 on the doorstep
    By 2022, a significant shift is expected in the productivity gap between humans and machines.
  • Humanity as the Differentiator
    Being human will be at the forefront of business, enabling people to leverage their uniquely human capacity. However, despite this urgent necessity, contemporary employees are often incomplete in people skills, and not all managers comprehend the need to develop them.
  • A Major Emphasis in People Skills will be in Demand
    The future workplace will require a workforce that is astute in interpersonal communication, intercultural competencies, complex problem-solving skills, collaboration skills, emotional intelligence, creativity, consensus building and so on.  Who can meet this need and how?
  • A Checklist is not Enough
    Developing people skills is complex, multidimensional and multifaceted and it doesn’t happen overnight. To be impactful, it requires a well thought out process and long-term execution strategy that combines experience and knowledge.
  • Humanity is an Asset
    Too often, the variances in humanity result in it being considered a liability.  Acknowledging humanity as an asset requires long-term investment in people at all levels of the organization. Success will inevitably come if there is a culture of life-long learning and collaboration.  Bold leadership coupled with rethinking and acting now is critical to bring about positive change.
  • What can you do?
    – Make it a priority to prepare your employees and create a team to navigate and guide your organization for Industrialization and Globalization 4.0
    – Conduct a needs analysis of what people skills are needed within your company
    – Develop a strategic plan on developing people skills
    – Get started now:  Upskill your workforce because the clock is ticking

Gone are the days when the workplace was merely a physical space with regular office hours. The world of work is going through a period of unprecedented transformation. Deloitte states that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (the marriage of physical and digital technology), promises to upend how all of us work, from interns to top executives. Machines will change the context of jobs, leading people to specialize in tasks that are unpredictable, not robotic.

Klaus Schwab puts it in the preface of the World Economic Forums’ Future of Jobs report 2018:

“The emerging contours of the new world of work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution are rapidly becoming a lived reality for millions of workers and companies around the world. The inherent opportunities for economic prosperity, societal progress and individual flourishing in this new world of work are enormous yet depend crucially on the ability of all concerned stakeholders to reform.”

Thus, in this global, innately interdependent and multicultural world, humanity comes to the centre of attention. Between 2018 and 2022, companies expect a significant shift on the frontier between humans and machines when it comes to existing work tasks. Business and financial acumen, as well as technical skills, are not sufficient by themselves. It is the balance of the two that reckons.

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So, what is your story?  Think about two or three key stories that define who you are today and write them down. This could be something as simple as a childhood memory or some challenge from your adult life.  If you are coming up empty or have doubts about the ideas you arrived at; perhaps you should interview family and close friends to get their input.  

Not surprisingly, there is a call for various new skillsets and they are being demanded at all levels.  For a long time, people skills were considered incidental, although recent research shows the opposite. A US survey reports businesses, with up to 100 employees each, wasted an average of US $420,000 per year due to miscommunication. In the July 2011 edition of the Holmes Report on “The Cost of Poor Communications” 400 companies with 100,000 employees or more, demonstrate inadequate communication to, and between employees, costing an average of US $62.4 million per company per year.

Being human will be at the forefront of business in our near future.  By being human, we will need to enable people to leverage their uniquely human capabilities in their careers and day-to-day work.  A new McKinsey Global Institute report sees the demand for social and emotional skills rising by 24 per cent to 22 per cent of hours worked. A LinkedIn Global Survey shows that 91% of talent professionals agree that soft skills are a major trend for the future of recruiting and HR. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills.

Despite the obvious need for increasing people-skill capacities, both current and potential employees are often reported as being deficient in these skills. Even though executives state that people skills are as important as academic ability, not all leaders are urged to develop them. While Deloitte reports that 86% of executives are saying they are creating a better-prepared workforce for the new era, talent and HR are on a relatively low priority with 17%.

What people skills are needed in the future workplace?

Researching soft skills that will be necessary for the future of work has uncovered a vast array of skills, mostly presented as lists. Intentionally, the most important skills are identified and enumerated, as another list is not what this conversation requires.

Communication competencies such as speech clarity, speaking, active listening, persuasion and negotiation, reading comprehension, writing and presentation will be crucial.  A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in the U.S. rank communication skills in the top three most-sought-after qualities by recruiters and executive search firms.

Complex problem solving is a close second, gathering skills like problem sensitivity, mental elasticity, fluency of ideas, complex information processing and being able to make connections across complex ideas.  Additionally, critical thinking, attention to details and innovative thinking are stipulated.

Social and emotional skills are on the rise such as emotional intelligence, adaptability, social intelligence, emotional safety, originality, resilience, possessing insights to others and social perceptiveness. Core in this group is empathy and collaboration. Such proficiencies are essential as projects grow increasingly more complex and intercultural. Finally, the need for creativity and inquisitiveness shifts upward in priority as future business challenges demand innovation to fuel growth.

Looking at all these requirements to be work-ready for the future raises the question of whoever can fulfil them? Additionally, one wonders if such long lists of requirements are helpful.

Taking a Broader, Interdisciplinary View

As globalization matures, it is normal to work and interact amongst people of many origins in person or virtually. Surprisingly, intercultural competencies, broadly defined as the ability to interact and communicate across cultures in a respectful, attentive and reflective manner, is hardly mentioned as a requirement for the future workplace.

group of people meeting

Early corporate research from expatriate management, created lists of characteristics relative to intercultural ‘competency’, too.  They proved to be very ineffective. Today, intercultural competencies are mostly viewed as a conceptual approach, a set of cognitive, affective and behavioural skills working together (Uehlinger, p. 31).

The future is intercultural and interdisciplinary.  It is advisable to corroborate with contemporary research and the continuance of professional development of intercultural competencies and people skills building.

Now what?

Undoubtedly, global labour markets are rapidly undergoing major transformations. World Economic Forum’s Job Report 2018 states that by 2022 no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling. Executives and workers will need to have the appropriate people skills that will enable them to successfully lead the transformation and to thrive in the future workplace.

Addressing and raising awareness for people skills is the first step, but not enough. It needs much more:

  • First off, the enormous process of change within the global workplace will require a change in mindset that needs to be embraced and proactively addressed.  There is no time to waste.  Sadly, research such as the Future of Jobs Report 2018 shows, that current re- and upskilling efforts are largely focused on highly-skilled employees – an expression of a traditional mindset and leadership style. Lower level employees most in need are less likely to receive such education.
  • Secondly, and in general – the “skills lists” and a few other models are too rational, and overly cognitive, and essentially forgetting the human element.  Additionally, articles such as “Here are the five top skills you need for the future” provide false security.  Time has come to reconnect to human nature, less scrutiny and ego, and more empathy and consciousness in communication and advancement of business objectives.
  • Third, developing the necessary people skills does not happen with a half day webinar or a checklist. On the contrary, it takes time and a process-oriented approach.  Developing proficiencies requires an inner, self-reflective process as well as a combination of experience and knowledge, to guarantee a transfer into everyday life. It starts with the individual and is a life-long learning endeavour.  Investments in short-term training is often money-wasted.  Learning emerges from the continued opportunity to construe the experiences and reconstrue them in transformative ways.

For instance, a Swiss businessman, appointed to a Japanese company’s executive board, didn’t realize the Japanese way of doing business. Furthermore, his Japanese colleagues didn’t understand his cultural ways either.  Knowing this impasse, he hired me, and we started to develop intercultural competencies.  After eight months of a self-reflective approach, consisting of intercultural assessments, one-to-one coaching, reflections on his own culture and the Japanese culture, he emerged as an intercultural success. The key was to recognize and understand his experiences and perspectives to transform them into opportunities. As a result, he worked more effectively and achieved better business results. The more time devoted to this practice, the more foundational the change. Being in relation to those different than you is a lifelong practice, not something achieved in a half-day training or webinar.

Finally, it is high time to see soft factors as essential, not as a hindrance. Such training is an investment, not a liability. Companies wishing to be successful in the future have no choice as to substantially invest in people over the long-term and to create a culture of life-long, continuous learning which requires a strategic approach.

Research of the World Economic Forum believes that the window of opportunity, for proactive management of the workplace change, is closing fast. Business, government and workers must plan and implement a new vision for the global labour market now. Humanity needs to be back in business at all levels. Time to act is now. A wait and see approach is already having a negative impact. For a future of good work for all bold leadership is critical. Are you ready?

Ask yourself: Are you ready?
Three thought-provoking questions to ponder honestly:

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10: How important is it for you and your organization to take the lead in the process of Industrialization 4.0?
  • How willing are you to openly embrace this change and to rethink? What might hinder you?
  • Are you ready to act now and to invest in people? If so, what are your next steps? If not, what needs to happen for you to be ready?

Resources:

  • Deloitte Insights: The fourth industrial revolution is here – Are you ready?
  • Deloitte Insights: Forces of change: The Future of Work
  • Deloitte: What key competencies are needed in the future?
  • Deloitte: The digital workplace: think, share, do; Transform your employee experience
  • Deloitte: The future of the Workforce Critical Drivers and Challenges
  • Grossman David, “The Cost of Poor Communications”, The Holmes Report, July 17, 2011
  • Uehlinger Christa, Miteinander verschieden sein, Interkulturelle Kompetenz als Schlüssel zur global vernetzten Welt, 2nd edition, Versus 2017
  • World Economic Forum: The Future of Jobs Report 2018
  • World Economic Forum: These 4 trends are shaping the future of your job
Dr. Christa Uehlinger

About The Author

Dr. Christa Uehlinger

Dr. Christa Uehlinger holds a doctorate in law from the University of Zurich. She is a skills developer and intercultural advisor who has worked for over ten years in international business as a manager and also as a consultant for global organizations and companies.

Today she runs her own consulting firm (www.linkingpeople.ch) and works internationally with leading companies across a range of industry sectors supporting them to discover the beauty and strengths of cultures, to share the sensation of being different and thus to make cooperation more effective, in part through her encouragement of “lateral thinking.”

Dr. Christa Uehlinger is a Member of the IRC Institute’s Global Advisory Panel and more of her work can be found featured in the IRC Institute website at www.irc-institute.com 

About IRC Institute

The IRC Institute is a global community of business professionals with a common interest in developing practical knowledge related to leadership, management and the development of senior talent.