By Dr. Mark Robinson, Director for the School of Business, Washington University of Science and Technology
While people in the workforce have a wide range of unique technical abilities and behavioral competencies that can help them be successful in various roles, certain workplace skills may prove more valuable than others.
A finance team member may never need coding skills, and a developer may never need financial modeling expertise. However, both these individuals will excel in their roles if they’re skilled communicators and collaborators.
As the pace of change accelerates, leaders increasingly recognize that people need ‘baseline skills’ to maximize their impact in a complex, interconnected world. So which skills matter most? HR consulting firm Korn Ferry surveyed executives of Fortune 500 companies to share their take on top skills for the future. Here’s what they said—and how you can develop your skills for success.
Top Skill #1: Adaptability
Roles, teams and organizations are evolving faster than ever. As organizations prioritize agility, they’re pivoting and revising strategies faster. Adaptability—the ability to embrace these changes and make the most of them—is critical for long-term success. It’s also at the heart of successful leadership and innovation.
An adaptable leader can meet new challenges as they arise and not be halted by sudden change, remaining comfortable with uncertainty. Being adaptable means, you’re less emotionally triggered by unexpected events. When a problem arises, you don’t dwell on how difficult it is, but rather quickly shift to search for solutions—communicating with your team about next steps and creating a strategy for action.
For example, today’s work landscape includes tools built with generative AI and machine learning. Individuals with a strong ability to adapt don’t feel threatened by these tools. Instead, they embrace the possibilities that come with them and stay focused on what matters most—driving business success.
Top Skill #2: Collaboration
Collaboration is the ability to embrace a “We before I” mindset, setting aside an individual agenda and working together as a team to explore what’s possible. Effective collaboration leads to more innovation, better communication and smarter decision-making. It also plays an important role in culture building.
Team collaboration is one of the biggest drivers for culture setting, culture shaping and culture building. It’s in teams and in the context of ‘real work’ that we test our values, assumptions and perception of norms.
As how we work continues to evolve, how we collaborate is changing, too. In highly matrixed organizations, collaboration is an opportunity to enhance one’s personal brand and build trust with coworkers. Whether teams connect in person or remotely, people are more effective collaborators when there’s a sense of psychological safety. Strong collaborators help facilitate this psychological safety, helping their team feel comfortable experimenting and being creative. Collaborators embrace experimentation and continually ask, “How can we be better?”
Top Skill #3: Communication
Communication takes many forms, and having employees fluent in multiple communication avenues benefits an organization. While being a strong writer or speaker is one component, successful communicators are also adept at clearly articulating a point of view and tailoring this message for their intended audience to maximize impact.
Communication increasingly happens in real-time in the flow of work. Conversations are carried out over multiple mediums simultaneously: across Teams or Slack, in the comments section of a shared document, over email and even through impromptu in-person meetings. A company leader may present to external stakeholders, share news of an internal structure change across teams, and then turn around and ideate with other executives on a critical analysis.
Amid the challenges of operating through a complex business and regulatory environment, organizations are also strengthening their own communications teams to further a clear and compelling narrative about the company’s future. The Chief Communications Officer (CCO) role continues to grow with a broad purview over corporate communications, media relations, crisis management, and social and digital media.
Top Skill #4: Critical thinking
In business, there are five types of critical thinking: strategic, tactical, analytical, innovative and implicative (a decision-making approach that compares multiple outcome paths). The best performers seamlessly switch between these different elements as they advance throughout their careers. They’re the ones who both see the dots and connect them in a meaningful way.
Where others see data points, critical thinkers find the insight that matters for individuals and organizations to reach their potential. In the face of growing complexity and increasing data inputs, strong critical thinkers draw on abilities like digital savviness to look through the chaos and chart a path forward, deftly managing risk and stakeholder expectations.
As organizations seek to transform for growth, critical thinking plays a vital role in everything from organizational design—unifying capabilities, structure and strategy—to people and performance. It’s the secret sauce that finds connections and drives impactful change.
Top Skill #5: Empathy
Empathy is the ability to sense others’ feelings and how they view things. Empathetic leaders successfully connect with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences because they understand their communication preferences and can approach each situation uniquely. They display genuine concern for others, interacting with people in a way that leaves them feeling understood, valued and motivated.
The modern working world is complex, filled with competing personal and professional priorities. From how meetings are scheduled to how you engage and inspire teams, an empathetic leader thinks of their team members as whole people.
With the rise of generative AI, empathy is taking on even greater importance. For some people, there’s a fear that AI could take away their job, threaten their livelihood and undermine their ability to care for their family. Empathetic leaders will be sensitive to these concerns and de-mystify potential impacts, helping them see their place on the team.
Dr. Mark Robinson is the Director for the School of Business at Washington University of Science and Technology. Comments to the author can be sent to: email@example.com. He is an alumnus from Exxon Mobil and Deloitte.
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