Communication Skills Aren’t Enough. How to Hire for the Future

a woman wearing VR glasses looking up

How do you feel about change? That word, especially when combined with “the future” and “innovation”, has always given me goosebumps. I like to think that change is good, even if not always easy or welcome.

But life in the aftermath of the fourth industrial revolution can feel overwhelming at times. Experts say that Industry 4.0 – as they’ve dubbed the phenomenon – is unlike any of the previous revolutions. The changes coming down the pike will be more radical and more rapid than ever before.

The invention and development of AI and machine learning, and the increasingly computational world that brings to rise driverless cars, robots, and apps taking over tasks normally performed by humans. Tech is fundamentally reshaping our world. It opens new possibilities but also poses a massive challenge for individuals and for companies to stay relevant.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has recently admitted to being in two minds about the current pace of change. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum and the person who coined the term fourth industrial revolution, says that change is bringing not only opportunities but also peril. Something big is at stake here.

In this blog post, I want to talk about what these changes mean for companies and how they affect hiring and talent management. The conclusions I’ve arrived at are a bit counterintuitive, yet optimistic. 🙂

What is changing and how is change unfolding?

The Institute for the Future, an NGO whose mission is to provide practical foresight for a world undergoing rapid change, lists several factors driving change:

  • an aging society resulting from increased longevity,
  • intelligent machines and systems coupled with the proliferation of data,
  • social media and new technologies enabling the free flow of information and opening new ways of doing business,
  • new communication tools that facilitate global interconnectivity and give rise to new working models, companies run remotely.

All of these change drivers, including our aging society, open new business opportunities. At the same time, they make the market more competitive. Regardless of the industry, you operate in or the size of your company, staying on top of the game means you need to embrace these opportunities proactively.

Retool your hiring strategy

Hiring is obviously a complex process, and there’s no one strategy for hiring talent that guarantees success. To cut the long story short, the traditional approach is for companies to look for candidates that match the requirements of the vacant position in terms of skills, and whose personality will fit into the team.

But in a world of rapid change, avoiding high staff turnover requires you to change the way you think about the skills you need.

In a world of rapid change, you need to change the way you think about the skills you need.
a woman wearing VR glasses and painting in a studio

What are the skills of the future?

One strong trend underpinning the changes taking place is automation and robotization. As a result, strong technical skills are in demand and will continue to be so. But there’s more to the story.

Paradoxically, the skills you’re going to need are increasingly those which differentiate people from machines. Expert sources are very clear in listing social and emotional intelligence, creativity, the ability to make decisions based on data, and employing critical thinking as such skills.

Let’s take a look at those skills in the context of the change drivers affecting businesses.

AI, machine learning, and data proliferation

Big data is contributing to the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence. This generates a continual need for data scientists, strong analytical skills, and computational thinking.

Computational thinking is a uniquely human ability. It’s basically the capacity to break down complex problems, to distinguish important information from irrelevant noise, to identify patterns, and to develop solutions to problems. This is something that no advanced computer program can do (yet). It entails critical thinking, creativity, and decision making based on understanding the complexity of the world and human behavior.

Building products or services for people means that on top of these skills, you’re looking for strong social and emotional intelligence to help you understand human needs and apply data to meet them.

clorful umbrellas hanging in the air

The aging society and global interconnectivity

The juxtaposition of these two change drivers may surprise you. But it’s no accident. Both increased longevity and the fact that we’re all interconnected across the globe call for strong intercultural competence – the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures and other age groups.

The fact that we are living longer means that multiple generations are meeting in a workplace, adding a new dimension to this competence. On top of looking for people able to collaborate regardless of cultural differences, you’re looking for professionals able to make a connection with others, regardless of age and expertise.

The importance of retaining staff with extensive life experience and getting different generations to cooperate is often underestimated. It’s scientifically proven that diversity at work yields better results than having highly-talented but like-minded individuals.

Maybe there’s something more than publicity to IDEO’s hiring their oldest designer? 😉 Diversifying your staff in terms of age lets you gather different levels of expertise. In turn, you can build truly interdisciplinary teams capable of taking a fresh look at problems and developing transdisciplinary solutions.

In fact, transdisciplinarity is another skill highly in demand. Wondering what this term means? It’s the ability to apply findings from diverse disciplines to a solution. This capacity lays at the core of every innovation.

Transdisciplinarity lays at the core of every innovation.

My favorite example of the power of the transdisciplinary approach is the story of the London tube map, whose design draws on the rules for creating electronic devices.

juxtaposition of the old and the new London tube maps

Old and new London tube maps

Before Beck created the present-day tube map, the London Underground map showed not only train connections, but also rivers, landmarks, and rails as they run in reality. The result was a messy document that was hard to read.

Beck’s conception not only gained traction among Londoners but also became the benchmark for underground maps around the world.

Social media and new technologies

Social media and the proliferation of new technologies are democratizing the business world as they give rise to companies like Airbnb or Uber, which open new ways of running a business and empower individuals to become entrepreneurs.

Ultimately social media and new technologies empower businesses to learn what the market needs and to market themselves with relatively small budgets.  

This creates more competitive markets. The companies that win the battle for consumers’ hearts are those which understand their real needs and address them by offering innovative solutions.

Here are three skills that will position you to accomplish precisely that: creativity, service orientation, and design mindset.

Service orientation is the ability to put yourself in your customer’ shoes so you can provide the service they actually need. It also entails engaging with customers to understand their unexpressed needs, as well as taking pride in supporting and assisting others.

Service orientation is critical not only to customer support roles. The skill is equally vital when it comes to product development.

Design mindset is linked to service orientation. If service orientation enables you to observe and understand a need, design mindset helps you find a solution to address that need.

Interconnectedness

New media and the world’s transformation into a true global village have dramatically changed the way we work. More and more companies are operating remotely these days, tapping into talent from all corners of the world. Working in intercultural teams or over great distances is no longer a novelty.

This all calls for strong people and communication skills, able to solve problems both near and far and to communicate effectively over a distance using new media and modern advances in technology.

It’s the skills that are uniquely human that set your company apart

We’re living in times of dramatic technological development of unprecedented pace and scale. Technology has already replaced humans in some spheres of life, and is clearly reshaping both the job market and the world as a whole.

Technology, being prevalent and commonly accessible, may soon cease to differentiate successful companies from failures or create an insurmountable gap between high-tech companies and others, less advanced.

What will position winning organizations for success is the ability to understand their customers’ needs and apply technology to meet them in new innovative ways, capitalizing on empathy and the ability to apply data in the service of solving people’s problems.

To win, companies should capitalize on empathy and unique insight into the needs of those they're serving.

And so, companies should revise their thinking of talent. On top of undoubtedly vital technical acumen, they should hire for skills and qualities that machines will never have: intercultural intelligence, critical thinking, transdisciplinarity, and above all the empathy and the ability to step into the shoes of the humans they serve.

Having such skills on board will guarantee them thriving working cultures, as well as loyal customers whose needs are met.

I'm a service designer and a digital marketer, passionate about human-centered design and storytelling. To my own surprise, I frequently find myself writing about motivation and organizational culture. Why? This could be the human factor at play...

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