The imperative of soft skills in the era of change

Monday, 4 june 2018 | Brenda Rodríguez López

For many years, the business environment linked the excellence of professionals to their intelligence quotient. Grades and certifications were decisive when recruiting talent and in the promotion of professional careers. Researchers, experts and corporations now look in another direction. Many of them claim that soft skills are as necessary and essential as academic or technical skills. Even if it is paradoxical, on many occasions soft skills can be more valuable than the last ones when facing the changes of the digital transformation and the industrial revolution. Why?

 

Before they were relegated to the background, the business world looked at them with certain degree of skepticism or taunt. Nowa days, th e soft skills, linked to the emotional intelligence of professionals, begin to occupy the agenda in the company management. The focus on corporations is now on matters like empathy in leadership, social awareness, relationship management, trust, attention and listening skills, proactivity, autonomy or time management. Firms are no longer guided by the academic merits of candidates when it comes to recruiting talent, but by their attitudinal and psychosocial skills.

A global environment in continuous evolution

The business network is not only evolving in technological terms, it also experiences the effects of the unstoppable globalization. The geographical borders are diluted and both large and small are committed to internationalization. The ability of professionals to work with people, teams and organizations in cultures and systems different fro m their own becomes crucial. Cultural, social and li nguistic differences can be a handicap when establishing relationships with others or managing teams outside of natural borders. Facing the lack of understanding and prejudices in this scenario is complex and it is there where skills such as empathy, open-mindedness, communication, flexibility or respect come into play.

On the other hand, professionals are forced to recycle themselves over and over again and to be open to continuous learning in order to properly evolve in a working environment that does not stop changing. New technologies, different dynamics, numerous tools and also problems that they had never dealt with before appear. The professionals have to put into practice their soft skills to be able to act effectively and adapt to this new ecosystem.

The latest annual Millennial Survey carried out by Deloitte focused on how unprepared the younger generations feel to face the challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Millennials require more guidance from companies to face this great change. Only 36% of millennials and 42% of centennials consider that their employers are helping them to understand well and be prepared for the changes that are coming. Curiously, these younger people demand beyond technical competences, a greater corporate effort when it comes to building soft skills like trust, interpersonal skills and, in particular from Generation Z, ethical attitudes and integrity .

The empathy in the office

One of the subjects that focuses most attention in the field of Human Resources and in relation to emotional intelligence is the topic of empathic leadership. According to the latest Workplace Empathy Monitor, carried out by Businessolver, 87% percent of executive directors believe that the financial performance of a company is linked to empathy in the workplace, like it is also considered by 79% of the professionals of human Resources. However, there is still a tendency to overlook attention to empathy within companies.

It should be noted that being empathetic does not imply subjecting to the will or the need of the other, nor is it a matter of going from being perceived as a partner to a fri end, but of finding a balance. Empathy is based on the understanding of the other, the observation and practice of an active listening. It does not suppose giving up beliefs, values or customs. Like Theano V. Kalavana and Philios Andreou argue in the article Finding the right level of empathy, empathy in business must tend towards the search for balance in order to achieve positive results.

The imperative of soft skills in the era of change

Why are the soft skills so valuable?

A certification does not imply a better job performance, as the giant Google defends in its hiring processes. On the contrary, soft skills prepare the ground so that professionals can adapt more quickly and effectively to changes within work environments. These skills are benefic ial for managers and middle managers, as well as for employees.

While technical competencies can be learned, the process of integration and incorporation of soft skills implies time and is complex, since they are part of a person’s personality and are not always innate abilities, which hinders their development. This is one of the reasons why they are key factors to take into account in the candidate recruitment. However, these skills can be worked on and, above all, can be boost by corporations.

In a constantly changing business environment it is easy for stress to appear. The skills linked to emotional intelligence are ideal to keep stress within limits so that workers do not end up suffering the so-called "burnout" syndrome characterized by professional fatigue, cynicism or lack of motivation. It should not be forgotten that companies are the reflection of the people that make them up.

One of the most common mistakes in the approach of work is to give priority to economic results  before relationships within the framework of the company and professional practice. In the short term, a leadership based on achieving economic objectives without taking into account the teams optimal results, is not maintained over time hence causing fractures or issues. A leadership of this kind weakens the team, darkens the work environment and encourages the talent drain. Caring for relationships at work is not a trivial matter. Soft skills are more important than their name suggests.

At The CEU IAM Business School we are aware that leaders can lose their effectiveness if they do not know how to properly manage lack of motivation in teams, times, negative attitudes or incidents and setbacks. For this reason, we have designed an Advanced Emotional Intelligence Programme for Team Management focused on the promotion of these skills both in a internal and external  manner.