Pursue What Matters
Episode 44: The Value of Soft Skills
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
When I was growing up, my sixth grade math teacher told me I needed to have the hard skills, math, science number crunching in order to be successful or you know, to have a career that would earn me living wage. But is that really true? I don’t know. I think my math teacher was wrong. We have entered a new age. And let’s let’s work it out and see whether my math teacher was really wrong. Or, you know, maybe he was right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:30
I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work? Well, if you joined me last week, on the podcast, I reviewed Daniel Pink’s excellent book A Whole New Mind, where he discussed the age of the left brain worker, and how that’s no longer enough. And that what we need in the world now, is all of those right brain creatives, who for so long, have been told that art gifts have been underrated and undervalued. Can you tell I’m a right brain thinker? Our time has come right brainers. So Pink wrote his book back in, I think 2005 or 2006. And, you know, the research that he reviewed at that time, and of course, his predictions based on that research have become true, like those, those predictions have been remarkably accurate. So what I want to do today on the podcast is talk about how many of his predictions have come to pass. Because what we’re seeing in the world of work, when it comes to the soft and hard skills of the right brain and the left brain, it’s so fascinating. And more importantly, what this means for you, as you consider where you are at in your career development path. Because, right, like we want to help you pursue what matters, and really make sense of all the information that’s coming at you. And, you know, maybe help you clear through what your sixth grade math teacher told you, or what your boss is telling you, and really figure out, you know, what are your skills? What are the gifts that you have, that you can bring into the world? And what, you know, what does the world need, so we really kind of want to help you find that good fit.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:38
So one of the things I absolutely believe when it comes to career development is that we are always on that path, you know, and, like I talked about it is career development, but it’s actually just life. I mean, career development makes it seem like it’s like this separate path. But it’s not, it’s just life. I mean, our path certainly doesn’t and definitely shouldn’t end, when we graduate from college, or when we take our first job. And increasingly, this is so true for us. Most of us will change jobs many times over, and even change careers several times. And so it’s definitely in our best interest to understand the landscape of work skills that are highest in demand, and to see where we fit in all of this. Because, you know, what I would say is, as an individual, you should hopefully, be continually evolving. And, you know your career, the way you work, the way you contribute to the world is an integral part of that development. And so when, you know, when I talk about career development, like it shouldn’t be something that’s set off to the side. Like it’s core to your identity, it’s core to who you are, you know, like I’m in my 40s. And I feel like I’m still totally developing like, if, five years ago, you told me I was going to be doing podcasts and all of this, I would be like, what, like, are you serious, but this is my path unfolding. And so I think we’ve got to be open. And we’ve got to be willing to kind of see how our path unfolds in front of us. And so, you know, with the podcast today, I really want you to kind of pay attention to, you know, what are your gifts? What are your skills, and especially today we’re talking about some of these soft skills, and thinking about kind of where are you at in your career path? And where do you want to go? And what are the skills that you need? And what are the gifts that you have? And what does the future hold for you and what’s needed.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:51
So, that’s kind of that’s kind of what we’re gonna focus on today. So let’s look a little bit at the numbers. So the landscape of, you know, jobs has really shifted, what’s for sure the average person will change careers, five to seven times during their working life, we just look at the numbers. So that’s very different. You know, I think about, I just think about my parents. So my mother joined, you know, the formal work force when she was 26 years old, as a single mother, and she worked for the same organization, until her retirement at 65. I think she retired at 65. So she’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong on that, that she worked with the same organization her entire career. And, you know, it was she had a wonderful career. And she worked her way up throughout that organization, and did awesome, but she worked for the same organization her entire career. And, and that’s very unique, we do not see that anymore. So with an ever increasing number of career choices, 30% of the workforce will now change careers, or jobs, every 12 months. That’s a lot. That’s a lot of resume updates. That’s a lot of job interviews. So 30% of the workforce will now change careers or jobs every 12 months. That’s crazy. That’s a lot. So by the age of 42, you may already have had about 10 jobs. Right. So now, that probably also includes, you know, work while you were in college and that sort of thing. So that’s not necessarily, you know, post graduation jobs, I’m sure that includes also during college, that sort of thing. But employers expect or at least accept that workers will be changing jobs a lot more often than they used to. So on average, about every three years is kind of what employers expect to see. And you know, that’s kind of hard on a company, because onboarding is expensive. Anytime you lose an employee that just gets expensive for an organization in a recent survey, so 49% of millennials quit their job within two years. But also 25% of those same respondents reported leaving an employer within the past two years. So this was a recent survey from Forbes. So this definitely doesn’t bode well for employers that are seeking a stable employee base. So only 28% of respondents said they would remain with their employer for at least five years. And, you know, part of what we’re seeing is like people are just much more mobile. And so that’s, that’s certainly one factor that we see happening. But also, it’s a lot easier to look for jobs, you know, if we think about online searching, that sort of thing. And so it’s, you know, looking for jobs is much more competitive, we also have a really strong economy. right now, that helps.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:16
So from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that the average person switched employer 6.6 times, or about once every four years from the ages of 25, to 52. So that’s kind of what we’re, that’s kind of what we’re seeing, I saw the days of staying with, with, you know, being a company man, or a company woman staying with the same employer, your entire career. So like my mother, or like many, many individuals have, say, my parents generation or the baby boomer generation, those days are, are long gone.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:59
So last week, again, I talked about the differences between the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere, and that those ways of thinking kind of correlate with some of the hard skills versus the soft skills. And you know, historically, those soft skills have been undervalued. So if we think about the right hemisphere, those are the, you know, we think about the creatives, we think about the designers, the storytellers, that those are the gifts of the the artists and the designers and the storytellers and they’re integrating, and it’s, it’s the pattern making and the meaning making and really seeing the context and the big picture. So those are some of the soft skills that we think about when we think about the right brain. And we think about the left brain we think about logic and analysis and and functioning in sequential seeing in sequential order, and it’s really really focused on kind of a reductionist perspective. And you know, order. So we think about the hard skills, we think about math, we think about the hard sciences, we think about engineering, those sorts of things. And so, today, and so in the book, last week, we talked about how we’re moving into the conceptual age, where the right, the right brain skills, or the soft skills are much more valued, because we need those skills to make sense of the great abundance that we have. And because we’ve lived in an information age where, you know, the abundance has been created, because of because of the information age, because of this focus on all of these hard skills, right? So all of the analysis, had the left brain skills has led to automation has led to a reductionist view. And it’s created a ton of abundance, and quite a bit of materialism, which, you know, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, right? I mean, it’s created a lot of abundance. But it’s meant that there’s a lot for us to wade through. So part of what we’re looking at now is, how do we make sense of everything coming at us? How do we decide how to spend our time? How do we value our time? How do we make choices between good and good? And so that’s, that’s kind of what we think about with the right brain skills. And so these, this is where we think about emotional intelligence, and meaning making. So there are a few reasons I want to talk about the value of these soft skills. So first, because the landscape is seriously changing. And if you don’t have some expertise in these soft skills, you’re going to be left behind. And it’s as simple as that. So I’ll share some of the numbers in just a minute about why this is true.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:23
But maybe even more importantly than that, I think for a lot of us who struggled with more of the analytical left brain skills, right, so those of you who were left behind in math class, I’m talking to you that we’re valued through much of our lives if it was easy to feel stupid, right. So if you didn’t feel like you had a lot of strengths with those left brain skills, it was easy to feel ashamed or to feel like you were really stupid. And I’m telling you, you were not stupid, because those things just weren’t valued. And of course, it was not intentional, but it was such a disservice. And this is where we kind of see the focus on IQ versus EQ. There are different skill sets, but both are equally valuable. And I think that’s the important thing to keep in mind. And of course, we understand this nuanced better now. And that’s what I think is important about this discussion. And you know, books like Pink’s A Whole New Mind. And, you know, when we think about the left brain skills, it’s important to acknowledge that those skills are necessary, but not sufficient for moving forward. And that the right brain skills, so more of the creative integrative skills, are the skills that will really help you stand apart. Because these are the skills that cannot easily be outsourced or automated. And that’s what’s really important to pay attention to. So everything that I’ve been reading on AI, because right like that’s such, that’s such an important focus, right now everyone’s talking about AI and, you know, the robots are coming, and they’re going to take over everything. And what we’re finding with AI, is, there are some things that AI does really, really well. And there are some things that AI cannot do. And so when we think about what AI cannot do well at all, it is like the absolute human tasks, which are meaning making, which includes empathy, and listening skills. And, you know, so AI can do pattern recognition, but what I’m talking about is pattern recognition on the human level, storytelling, that sort of thing recognition of narrative, and what that means in context, so when we think about right brain skills, we’re talking about the skills that cannot be easily outsourced or automated. So if you can develop an easy protocol, or stepwise approach of an if then approach that can be so easily automated that, you know, a computer can do it, you know, that’s not a real right brain skill. But if you need a person, right, that can, that can weigh the costs and the benefit that can make meaning about the information that’s coming in. Those are those really important right brain skills that we’re talking about. So these are the uniquely human skills that require creativity, empathy, vulnerability, connection, and intuition. And just as you listen to that list, I’ll repeat it again, creativity, empathy, vulnerability, connection, and intuition. How on earth do you get a computer to do those things? You can’t, you just can’t. And so these are the skills that we really want to hone these are the, quote unquote, soft skills that have traditionally been and undervalued.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:33
These are also maybe coincidentally, maybe not, these are the skills that have traditionally been associated with women. These are the skills that we think of when we think about nurturing, when we think about when we think about attachment. And so, you know, I’ve, I’ve said this before, but women, we need your skills, we need your leadership, we need your gifts, that you’re meant to lead, you are absolutely meant to lead, and we need your gifts more than ever. Creativity, empathy, vulnerability, connection, intuition, so that the, the time is now for you. So they can’t, they cannot be easily replicated or automated. It’s been tried, believe me, AI has tried and they failed miserably with these skills. So for all of you with these right brain dominance skills, I want to tell you that there is room for you in the new economy. And not only is there room for you, but we need you more than ever before. So your gifts are exactly what we need. And you know, we are seeing an explosion in businesses that are consistent with these skills, from design, to health care, to self care to lifestyle brands. And it’s so exciting. I love it. I love seeing the explosion of all of these businesses. So the way that we live and the quality of our lives matter so much, right? So we’re really, you know, we’re moving away from quantity, and really moving towards quality. So the way we matter, or the way we live really matters. And we’re seeing these lifestyle brands really sprout up and they’re, they’re, you know, thriving, they’re doing so well. So we’re turning to purpose and meaning and care much more about these things than we do about accumulating goods. So we’re moving away from consumerism, and really moving towards meaning and purpose. And I love that so awesome.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:52
Okay, so I want to talk about some recent research findings that support this. According to a recent McKinsey report. social, emotional and technological skills are becoming more crucial as intelligent machines take over more physical, repetitive and basic cognitive tasks. Right, so the predicted percentage change in total hours worked in 2030 versus 2016. for Europe and US in the US in several categories include so this is, right, so the predicted percentage change between 2016 and 2013. That they’re predicted, they’re predicted to see a 14% decrease in physical and manual skills. 15% decrease in basic cognitive skills, right, because that’s going to be automated, and an 8% increase in higher cognitive skills. So right those higher order thinking skills and a 24% increase In social and emotional skills, so we think about emotional intelligence, we think about connection, we think about empathy, we think about listening and communication skills, and a 55% increase in technological skills. Right. And this is really we think about pattern recognition, meaning making, and really the, the intersection between technology, and application to people’s life, and meaning, right, so I read somewhere I can’t, I apologize, I can’t remember where it was. But it basically indicated, every company today should consider themselves a technology company, in the world we live in every company should consider themselves a technology company. And I think that’s really true, because this is the world that we live in. And so even if you feel like you run a very traditional organization, you have to find a way to intersect or interact with technology, to connect with your clients to connect with your customers. And so we see there’s gonna be a big increase, you know, predicted increase in these technological skills. And that really is all around, meaning making, pattern recognition, that big picture, right, and connection. And then in a McKinsey survey of HR leaders, they found that leaders are having a difficult time recruiting candidates with specific soft skills. So this is where, you know, soft skills are increasingly more valued, and harder to find, right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:56
So those of you with strengths in the soft skills, we need you, we need you, you’re going to be really, highly sought after. So the top three areas of missing soft skills include, the first one at 37% was problem solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity. The second area at 32% was ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity. And then the third area at 31% was communication. So okay, I look at those top three areas. And I’m like, that sounds like motherhood? Do you find a way to work your resume? That sounds like motherhood to me, problem solving, critical thinking, innovation and creativity, ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity and communication? Okay. So those are definitely the soft skills that are in demand. And then re skilling at scale is a concern and priority for 80% of C suite executives. And that’s also according to a McKinsey survey. So what they’re really worried about is how do they rescale all of these mid career middle age workers, particularly in the soft skills, so that’s what they’re worried about, like we need to help all of these mid career folks who have the analytical skills, we need to help them develop the emotional intelligence, we need to help them develop all these right brain skills. So again, you know, I just want to take a minute and talk to all the stay at home mothers listening, or those listening who may be doing part time work, or who may be considering returning to the workforce in some significant way. In the coming year, you know, if you felt that you would not have a place due to, you know, maybe a lack of hard skills, or, you know, like just a lack of confidence when it comes to the hard skills. Don’t worry about it, you know, it’s the if your strengths lie with the soft skills, those are just what are needed. So if you’re a gap woman, not that you like the gap, but meaning you’ve been at home raising kiddos and are preparing to return to work, or maybe, you know, again, you’re considering returning to full time work, that you’ve been worried about the viability of your soft skills, Now is your time. Now is your time. So now let’s think about some solutions and and pin down what constitutes the soft skills because the way you speak to your soft skills really matters. So again, the right brain activities include intuition, creativity, integration, big picture thinking, design, weaving and of story. Impact of communication, culture empathy. So it’s fluid, nonlinear and contextual. So those are some of the key words you want to pay attention to. So think of your artists, your writers, your designers, your therapist, your teachers, anyone who you might label a free thinker. And not, you know, not necessarily because there’s a whole spectrum.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:26
But according to McKinsey, the soft skills are commonly defined as non technical skills that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with others are vital to organizations and can impact culture, mindsets, leadership, attitudes, and behaviors. And the skills fall into the following categories. So if that’s communication and negotiation skills, interpersonal skills, and empathy, leadership and management skills, entrepreneurship and initiative, taking, adaptability and continuous learning skills, teaching and training skills, these are the people you like to be with at work. Because they have really good human skills, right? Like, they’re fun to hang out with, they know how to communicate. And I want to be clear, they’re not necessarily extroverts. So let’s, you know, don’t get caught up on the introvert extrovert thing. But they they have high emotional intelligence, they know how to communicate and connect with people. So let’s first focus on solutions that help organizations address the soft skills gap. So McKenzie looked at this, and they recommended several best practices for organizations.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:45
So solution, one is to codify or define the soft skills and a specific evaluation criteria for that. So what are the specific soft skills? And how do you evaluate them effectively. So right, I just gave you a whole list of those soft skills that you could identify and define, and then start to evaluate. And you could evaluate that quarterly, you could evaluate that on an annual basis, you could use that as part of your interview criteria of what you’re looking for in a candidate. So there are lots of ways that you could incorporate that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:26
Solution two for organizations would be to recruit softly, so structure interviews to elicit some of these work life details, and experiences that have made candidates who they are today. So one way that you could do that is when you have a candidate in your office, you could ask them to tell you a story about you know, maybe, you know, tell us a story of when you faced a challenge that could give you such a window into who they are as a person. Of course, we know story is one of those important soft skills. But it would give you such a great snapshot into some of these work life details and experiences. So that’s something that you could do.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:13
Solution three for organizations would be to teach soft skills through employee learning journeys that blend training, digital courses, job aids, and peer coaching. So you know, people learn in different ways. But the key is that these are teachable skills. So you know, think about some of the some of the trainings that you have for your employees already, and how can you incorporate these so sometimes it’s an emotional intelligence module that you add, or of course, you know, Bernie Browns dare to lead curriculum. Of course, I’m a dairy LEED certified facilitator and her her dare to lead curriculum is absolutely 100% focused on these skills, and it’s powerful. And, of course, they’re all evidence based, measurable, observable and teachable skills. So something like that could be so powerful for your team, and like a really great way to to teach some of these skills. Okay, so that’s on the organization side. So now, what can you do as an individual to increase your soft skills in order to be more competitive.
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:28
So solution four is to download the freebie that I had last week, from the book review, It’s entitled Tips for Cultivating a Whole New Mind, because it’s got a lot of really helpful tips from the book that can be really, really helpful for building some of these soft skills. So Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind is all about building these soft skills. He turns it right brain skills to help you to be competitive in the new conceptual age. So definitely download that freebie I link to it. In this week’s show notes course, you can go back to last week’s podcast and listen, and it’s available there as well.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:10
Solution five, strengthen your emotional intelligence skills. Emotional intelligence is the foundation of soft skills. So focusing on cultivating the five pillars of emotional intelligence can be really helpful. I also have some podcasts on emotional intelligence. So those five pillars include self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. So those are the five pillars.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:39
And then solution six, consider a digital course designed to increase the skills. So McKinsey in their survey identified several soft skill categories that CEOs are really interested in cultivating in their employees. So those categories, again, are advanced communication and negotiation skills, interpersonal skills, and empathy, leadership and management skills, entrepreneurship and initiative, taking, adaptability, and continuous learning, and then teaching and training skills. So if you’ve never taken a digital course, they’re awesome, because you, you can do very interactive learning, on your own time at home, they’re usually videos, so you can kind of have some interaction with the course instructor, or you can do it on your own time at your own pace. There are often resources like downloadable PDFs, worksheets, those sorts of things that help you to interact with the material to deepen and strengthen your learning. And often, there’s also an accountability component, whether that is with an online community, and accountability group, follow up with your instructor. So digital courses is it’s an a whole new way of learning. And it’s exploding right now. And it’s so useful. I’ve I’ve done several, I’ve taken several digital courses, and they’re just, they’re really, really great. So they can teach you these specific skills and can be really helpful. And of course, like I said, they tend to be much more interactive than books, because they include more resources, assignments, that sort of thing. So the digital courses are a great option.
Dr. Melissa Smith 32:26
Solution seven, is ask for specific feedback about your development relative to soft skills. So seek feedback from peers, and from those that lead you and ask for very specific feedback. So you know, what it is you need to work on. So whether that might be negotiation skills, and then that could give you some good direction for whether that is some reading on your own with a book or with a digital course or that sort of thing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 32:55
Okay, solution, eight self assess your soft skills. So you want to identify if there are aspects of your current work that could be easily outsourced or automated, because of course, you don’t want to be outsourced and you don’t want to be automated. I mean, I’m assuming you don’t want to be automated. So these are the questions to ask yourself, Could your work be done just as easily by someone overseas? Who is moderately trained? Could your work be done more cheaply, by someone overseas? Who is moderately trained? And are their decisions at work that you are uniquely positioned to make? Why? What uniquely qualifies you to make these decisions? will this continue to be true? Why or why not? So I think this is a really, these questions are really, really good self assessment, to kind of help you see where you’re at with your own skills and see where you might have some gaps, and where you could strengthen your soft skills.
Dr. Melissa Smith 33:58
And then solution nine, write your job description in 50 words or less, okay, 50 words might sound like a lot, but it’s not that long. So this will help you clarify your current role and get specific about your skills. So what is it exactly that you do? Is your role mostly composed of hard skills, or soft skills? So this might be kind of a painful exercise. But if you stick with it, I promise it will be enlightening. And I really want you to watch for your gaps. So where are your gaps in your skills and really drill down into your specific skills like what is it exactly that you do in 50 words or less? Okay, that will really crystallize things for you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:52
Okay, so there you go. I have nine solutions for you, to help you strengthen your soft skills and really see The value of soft skills. So make sure you head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-44. So over on the website, of course, you’ll see the show notes, you’ll find the freebie from last week’s podcast, but it’s one of the solutions for this week. And that is tips for cultivating a whole new mind. The other thing that I’ll include over there is a link to my digital course that will actually be coming out later this year. We’re going to launch that in September. And it is the confidence to lead course. And that that course actually is focused all on soft skills needed for leadership. And so that could be an option for you. If you are wanting to strengthen some of your skills in that area. It’s also going to be focused on self care and balance. So it’s going to be a really comprehensive course. And I’m really excited about that. So you can learn a little bit more about that digital course and sign up for the waitlist if you are interested. And then I’ll also include the link to last week’s podcast and the book from last week. So if you want to find out more about Daniel Pink’s great book, so again, that’s at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-44 one more time. www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-44. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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