Market musings

Why the Talent Crisis Is More About Soft Skills Than Hard Skills

by Sasha Viasasha
August 16, 2017

Finding, developing and retaining great talent has become a major problem for businesses of all sizes, across all industries.

In fact, US employers report the highest global talent shortage since 2007. But it isn’t just a national problem. The talent crunch is global, and together with dismal workplace engagement numbers it’s putting a significant drag on the global economy.  

The talent crisis is a convergence of these trends: a shortage in high skilled workers and poor workplace engagement.

Employee churn

The problem has many angles. Finding talent and engaging it are two distinct problems. Star players have high expectations and tend to move on if they aren’t satisfied. Because their skills are in high demand, they can command excellent salaries and great perks.

High performing employees also have an incentive for changing jobs frequently. Jumping ship is financially lucrative, but being loyal often just does not pay. This churn is driving up top wages without developing the talent pool in a meaningful way. 

Culture and values

Though top firms compete for talent by shelling serious cash, money isn’t everything. After hitting a comfortable standard of living at around $75,000 money ceases to be a significant motivator. Work/life balance isn’t really a big deal, either.

In fact, highly rated executives are more common at companies with a lower work/life balance. Overwhelmingly, workers are willing to sacrifice their personal lives to work under great leadership. After achieving financial security, according to a study by Glassdoor, the largest indicator of employee satisfaction is culture and values.

Employers and employee want the same things

Workers want to have an impact, pursue personal development, and have the opportunity to work under great leadership. These are the same conditions that support and foster talent. When they aren’t present, employees aren’t engaged, don’t stick around, and neither they nor the company can grow.

Not a talent crisis; a culture crisis

In an analysis of the global talent market by researchers at the OC Tanner Institute, David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom wrote:

“Reading all the research and headlines on the topic, it’s clear that we have a talent crisis. What becomes even clearer, however, is that the talent crisis isn’t due to a lack of smart, ambitious, innovative people. It’s not rooted in a mismatch of employee skills and employer opportunities. In fact, it’s a crisis that we, as leaders, could solve ourselves, because the crisis stems from organizations and their cultures, not from individual contributors.”

What can a SMB do to meet this challenge? How will future-of-work developments like open talent markets and flexible work conditions impact the problem? As technology comes to define our work environments, culture, and the soft skills that facilitate it, will become even more important.

What exactly is company culture? And why are soft skills so important?

A company’s culture coalesces around its values, the qualities it considers most important.

A strong culture can form organically around a product or charismatic leader, but this isn’t always for the best—at least not in the long run. Recent days have seen many upheavals as leaders waited too long to correct the cult of personality of their early days, and failed to install a more sustainable and forward-looking culture.

Systems, beliefs, processes, decision-making structures, language and habits both support and create culture, and can inadvertently work to create an unintended or shadow culture, if not aligned with the company’s core values.

There is a simple principle to guide you in creating a healthy culture that grows talent and keeps customers happy.  

A people-focused, customer-centered culture will always correct itself.   

The age of automation

The age of automation is upon us. It’s estimated that the job market will shed as many as 38% of US jobs over the next 15 years. It may be difficult to project exactly is how digital transformation will also create new jobs, but a picture is emerging of what kind of skills will be most valuable. According to the WEF, creativity will move to the top of the list, while cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence will become even more important.

The functions that artificial intelligence can’t replace will be those rooted in distinctly human qualities: resilience, empathy and creativity. 

“Empathy is one of the greatest creators of energy,”--Angela Ahrendt, Senior Vice President, Apple Retail.

Empathy as the #1 leadership skill

In fact, the entire suite of social skills, from self-awareness to problem solving, negotiation and communication, relies on empathy to help contextualize and socialize information. Empathy is necessary for any leader; and as human interaction becomes automated, it will become even more necessary.

Empathy allows leaders to create meaningful change, to mentor and train the next generation of talent, and to learn powerful lessons about the world.

In the HBR article “What Makes a Leader,” author Daniel Goleman names three reasons why empathy is becoming more important than ever: the need to manage teams, the rapid pace of globalization and cultural change, and the growing need to retain talent. 

These reason are all important, but it goes even deeper than that. The nature of business has changed. Glancing over the headlines in Harvard Business Review today, you can see the following titles:

Prevent Burnout by Making a Compassion a Habit

Don’t Let Shame Become a Self Destructive Spiral

To Build Your Resilience, Ask Yourself Two Simple Questions

Making Your Workplace Safe for Grief

See a trend?

Business leaders are more than executives; and companies are playing a new role in the world. Building relationships, providing mentorship and creating a healthy environment where people can grow and develop themselves is crucial. Rather than hiring people for a skills sets that will deprecate, businesses can focus on hiring people with the right soft skills. Curiosity, empathy and resilience are difficult to teach.

The best business can do is create a supportive environment where employees feel supported and empowered. Growing your own talent is the best solution to the talent crisis. 

The greatest advantage a small business has is the up close and personal opportunity to build relationships, have one-on-one conversations, and create organizational change from the ground up.

At Spoke, we believe that conversations are more important than ever, and we want to help your company build a stronger culture by making it easier to stay connected to each other and your customers. 

To learn more about how our simple app can transform your mobile phone infrastructure into a smart business phone system in one easy step, check out this blog. To see if our service is right for you visit our Features page, and if you want to try it out, take advantage of our Free Trial.

Remember, great talent isn't located in a single individual, but the coordinated efforts of people working together.   

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