Success in the Digital Age: The Hard Truth About Soft Skills

Was Einstein onto something when he lamented, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction”? If you’re among the 77% of employers in today’s labor market who place a heavy premium on soft skills, then your response is likely a resounding ‘yes’.

To meet the demands of today’s digital landscape, however, companies of all sizes have spent the greater part of the last decade campaigning hard to attract tech-savvy candidates equipped with a repertoire of specialized skills. Consequently, this widespread push to stack the deck with technical gurus has left many organizations anemic when it comes to soft skills. Now more than ever, workforce leaders are clamoring to close the skills gap, citing the critical role that soft skills play in driving business outcomes.

The Slow Death of Soft Skills

So, can we blame the workplace disparity between hard and soft skills solely on the flood of robo-millennials who came out of the womb cradling a smartphone and have now infiltrated the job market? Hardly. Nobody in today’s organizational hierarchy is immune to the pervasiveness – and convenience – of technology. Let’s face it – at one point or another, we’ve all opted to forego verbal communication and instead, sent a text or instant message to a colleague sitting three cubicles away, emailed a client to avoid making a phone call, or tethered ourselves to a desk and participated in a webinar instead of attending an on-site training. We now live in an age when you can order dinner, buy living room furniture, and book an all-inclusive trip to the Maldives without having to speak to a single human being in the process. While the automation of tasks has provided efficiency, it has also impeded our ability to utilize and grow interpersonal skills that are even more critical to organizational success than technical proficiencies are.

Why are Soft Skills So Important?

Software, machines, and other cognitive technologies continue to supplant the need for traditional labor, which begs the question, “are human skills even valued anymore?” In a word, yes. The digital age has given rise to an augmented workforce where synergy exists between man and machine. In fact, the automation of certain tasks actually serves to underscore the significance and value of “human skills” that technology simply can’t match, as evidenced by a recent leadership IQ study that noted 89% of employees fail due to subpar interpersonal/soft skills, while technical skills account for only 11% of employee failures.

Regardless of how effective your company’s products or deliverables may be, or how well they’re maintained and supported by technical staff, only a human being with superior soft skills can provide the empathy, personal service, active listening, and relationship-building components that are critical to the success of client and customer-driven industries.

Communication, problem-solving, and cultural sensitivity are also must-have skills in today’s workplace as companies rally to triumph over readily-accessible competitors in a saturated global market. Additionally, there will always be a need for project managers, leaders, and strategic thinkers to support your company’s mission, boost morale, and develop innovative solutions to achieve business goals. Unfortunately, the emphasis on -and value of- these soft skills has been eclipsed by the perceived power and appeal of hard skills.

Simply put – organizations that achieve success in the digital age are the ones that embrace this workforce paradigm shift from traditional to technological and recognize that hard and soft skills are not mutually exclusive when it comes to recruiting, training, and maintaining talent. Not only should equal attention and credence be paid to both technical and interpersonal skills, but business leaders must implement ways to cultivate and continually hone both sets of skills among their workforce.

Call to Action

Workforce leaders can’t afford to turn a blind eye when a soft skills deficit presents itself, nor should they assume that core competencies like communication and leadership will be organically acquired by employees on the job. With organizational structures transitioning to flatter, more agile models, traditional mentorship roles are diminishing, as are opportunities for middle- and upper- management to develop and groom younger employees. The solution? Training.

In the same manner that employers mandate or offer supplemental training to advance computer and technical skills, upskilling must extend to also include structured programming designed to improve and develop soft skills crucial to organizational success. Additionally, companies should consider screening and assessing soft skills at the hiring stage to preemptively identify where strengths and weaknesses may exist, and then tailor training accordingly.

Here at MEA, we understand that as technology continues to evolve at the speed of light and influence the way we do business, humans need to develop commensurate skills for driving results. That’s why we offer a robust pipeline of training programs designed to equip members of your workforce at all levels with the soft skills they need to thrive in the digital age. From polishing effective communication and presentation skills to developing strong leadership and management capabilities, MEA has your company’s unique needs covered. Contact us to learn more.