5 Reasons Your Organization Must Prioritize Soft Skills Before Technical Skills

For the purpose of this article, technical skills are defined as the abilities and knowledge needed to perform specific tasks, while soft skills are the personal attributes that enable one to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Unless you are writing code, designing circuits, or doing heads-down engineering in solitude, it is likely your teams will perform better if equipped with members who bring strong soft skills to the game. For the purpose of this article, technical skills are defined as the abilities and knowledge needed to perform specific tasks, while soft skills are the personal attributes that enable one to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Those who are most adaptable and versatile, effective at communicating and collaborating, and demonstrate superior emotional and social intelligence will go a long way in leading their teams to success—much more so than technical skills. Here are a few reasons why:

Reason #1: Relevant technical skills are transient and may quickly become obsolete

The rate of change in the workplace is increasing, and yesterday’s technical skills have quickly become devalued. That’s why flexibility to learn what is new and upcoming is mandatory in order to stay relevant. Meanwhile, the range of soft skills will sustain and motivate a team to continue to move forward, persevere, and learn new technical skills on the fly as needed to meet specific project demands. 

Reason #2: Technology is becoming more intuitive and easier to use

With the consumerization of both information and communication technology, using technology productively to achieve your respective ends has become much simpler and easier. This recent revolution in usability means that a team member with reasonable aptitude can quickly deliver results with powerful tools that previously required months if not years of training to master. For example, editing videos or creating infographics used to require the installation and learning of complicated tools. Now, easy and automated tools from the cloud do the job with minimal fuss and produce great results.

Reason #3: Team structures have gone from structured and stable to ad-hoc and on-demand As team construction becomes more fluid and project-driven, the soft skills of being able to fit-in quickly, establish rapport and trust with peers, and understand how to add value to achieve team goals become critical. Without these “softer” personal characteristics in hand, even those teams stacked with excellent technical skills may not be very productive or adaptable to new challenges in a dynamic work environment.

Reason #4: The skills and knowledge to perform a task may end up being performed by a machine instead

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation increasingly are replacing the technical components of work, especially the more structured, repetitive, or programmable elements. In this context, however, uniquely human attributes such as creativity, leadership, and ability to collaborate are not easily replaceable with automation or AI. These softer characteristics and personal traits will continue to be in demand and deliver sustained value. 

Reason #5: Virtual, distributed teams are becoming mainstream across many industry sectors Virtual teams tend to have remote or distributed members, potentially assembled to achieve a project outcome, or to tap the knowledge and expertise of employees whose location spans multiple time zones or continents. Some may work from home, or in a different location than their manager. This environment implies that employees must be productive in the absence of the traditionally co-located, hierarchical, supervised team model. These distributed teams tend to be much flatter, more self-managing, self-directed, and results focused. With this team concept, you can see that regardless of the technical skills in hand, soft skills would be a higher priority prerequisite to ensure team members work effectively together.

What is the implication for your organization’s hiring and training? The first question to ask would be how much time, energy, and resources are allocated to developing soft skills as opposed to technical skills. Depending on how soft skills are fermented and utilized, you may well have an opportunity to reprioritize, and, as a result, see your teams generate better outcomes for your organization.

Ross Sedgewick joined Unify in 2002 and has filled several expert marketing roles in technologies for the digital workplace, team collaboration/customer contact solutions, and virtual team engagement. He currently handles content creation, messaging, and insight development relating to the digital workplace. Sedgewickis passionate about humanizing the intersection of people and technology, and understanding how users engage and interact. Prior to joining Unify, he held marketing, product, channel, and sales leadership positions at IBM Corporation, Delano Technologies, and Siemens Enterprise Communications.

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