In today’s interconnected world, characterised by global connectivity and the blurring of occupational boundaries, the importance of acquiring and developing essential skills has never been greater. As society evolves, individuals must equip themselves with the capabilities to navigate complex social relationships and diverse environments effectively. This blog explores the significance of four essential skills—communication, empathy, collaboration, and leadership—for positively impacting an ever-changing world.
The Need for Effective Communication:
Effective communication has long been recognised as a fundamental human skill. However, the traditional emphasis on one-way communication has left employers dissatisfied with their employees’ communication skills. In an increasingly digital future, the depth of communication and the emphasis on listening and understanding will become crucial. Sharing information clearly and comprehensively will remain vital in a complex landscape where autonomy over work organisation is rising. Moreover, the ancient art of storytelling is emerging as a powerful method of communication, enabling individuals to influence and inspire change.
The Power of Empathy:
Feeling, mainly through empathy, is pivotal in shaping meaningful change. Understanding customers’ latent needs and perspectives is essential for problem-solving and creating solutions that truly matter. While empathy has been identified as a critical skill for the future, studies indicate a decline in empathy among individuals in recent years. Cultivating empathy creates a sense of social conscience and responsibility towards broader society. Organisations like IBM recognise empathy as a critical element of their cultural change initiatives, understanding the importance of understanding users’ perspectives to meet their evolving expectations.
The Art of Collaboration:
Collaboration is an increasingly valued skill in modern workplaces, with technology continually transforming how we work together. As geographical barriers diminish, cross-cultural competence becomes essential for effective collaboration. Leveraging technology for collaborative purposes necessitates comfort and adaptability in utilising new tools. Collaboration thrives on social perceptiveness, where individuals can build relationships and work synergistically with others, fostering genuine effectiveness.
Leadership in an Autonomous World:
The future workforce demands highly skilled leaders capable of working autonomously. Whether working independently or within organisations, individuals must possess the ability to influence, motivate, and drive change. Leadership roles are predicted to be in high demand, necessitating the support and development of others. Empowering all workers as leaders can lead to transformative results, as demonstrated by the experience of naval captain David Marquet, who treated his crew as leaders rather than followers, sparking a proactive and creative environment.
Social Intelligence is the awareness of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns to navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments effectively. Digital technology has allowed society to connect globally in new ways and will continue to make it easier. It is also widely anticipated that existing sectoral and occupational boundaries will blur (Kelly, 2015). Hence, the need to have skills to connect and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds is critical. To make a positive change in the world, we recognise that we can do this more effectively with others, using different perspectives to reach the best possible outcome.
Communication has been an essential human skill at the heart of our education system for generations. However, with over-emphasis on one-way communication, employers are dissatisfied with the level of communication skills that their employees can demonstrate (CBI, 2016). The need for effective communication in a range of media is likely to increase in the future. The difference may be the depth we communicate and a greater emphasis on listening and gaining accurate understanding.
Sharing information effectively will also continue to be of utmost importance. In an increasingly complex future, where people have much more autonomy over the organisation of their work (CIPD 2008), clarity in communication will be vital – in all directions and at all levels. The ancient art of storytelling is already being evidenced as a valuable method of communication (Monarth, 2014). It is likely to have increasing application as we look to influence others to make changes. Communication is the ability to openly and honestly share information to create mutual understanding about thoughts, intentions and ideas between all parties involved.
Within the accountancy profession, it is recognised that skills like communication will be of increasing importance as a significant number of technical skills performed by professionals have the potential to be automated in the future (ACCA). While machines can produce detailed information, there is a potential for workers to interpret this, using effective communication skills and storytelling to bring information to life.
The ability to communicate incorporates the following:
- Receiving information: Understanding and mentally processing verbal or written communication
- Listening: The ability to actively understand the information provided by the speaker and display interest in the topic discussed
- Giving information: Giving written or verbal communication in a way that can be best understood by those receiving the communication.
- Storytelling: The ability to tell stories that persuade, motivate and inspire, as well as bring the sharing of knowledge to life through examples and illustrations
For those looking to shape change, feeling ensures this change has a positive societal impact rather than just being innovation for innovation’s sake. Many have identified empathy as a critical skill for the future (Parmar, 2017). Whether self-employed, working for public services or even big business, understanding customers’ latent needs could ensure we solve problems and create solutions that matter to people.
Empathy has been identified as a critical differentiator for business success, with companies such as Facebook, Google and Unilever being recognised as excelling in this area (Thomson, 2016). Even though empathy is recognised as a vital skill for the future, it has also been noted that empathy is an attribute that has been diminishing in individuals over the last 15 years (Konrath et al., 2010).
The feeling is considering our impact on other people by being able to take a range of different perspectives, thoughts and feelings into account. IBM has embarked on a transformational cultural change programme, investing more than $100 million to embed design thinking across the whole organisation as a new way of working (Handa and Vashisht 2017 and Adobe Creative Cloud 2017). One fundamental tenet of their design thinking approach is empathy and focusing on what users need. They recognise that understanding customers’ perspectives is critical to meeting their increasingly high expectations for digital experiences.
The ability to bring feeling to what we do incorporates:
- Empathy: The ability to take the perspective of others to understand their feelings and motivations
- Social conscience: A sense of responsibility and concern for wider society
Collaboration is a skill that has been introduced previously, but evidence suggests its importance is increasing, with most roles requiring collaboration at some level. How we use technology for collaboration will undoubtedly continue to evolve, so we will all need to be comfortable using new technology in this way. As this new technology removes distance as a barrier and we can work with others effectively across continents, cross-cultural competence – being open to, understanding and working within alternative cultural norms – will be essential.
Collaboration is working in coordination with others to convey information or tackle problems. These teamwork and relationship-building skills should be built on a foundation of social perceptiveness to make us all genuinely effective collaborators.
Last year, Google and Levi’s ‘Project Jacquard’ launched its first wearable technology product. This denim jacket uses smart fabrics to allow you to do things like control music or get directions on the move (MIT et al.). A project like this takes fundamental collaboration skills. It was not a co-branding exercise but a case of two teams with expertise in a specific area of design and production learning to work in new ways. To enable this to be a practical project, the team members at both companies need to have highly developed collaborative skills and use other skills across the model, such as adapting and curiosity.
The ability to collaborate incorporates the following:
- Relationship building: The ability to identify and initiate connections and to develop and maintain them in a way that is of mutual benefit to both one’s self and others
- Team Working and Collaboration: Working with others toward shared goals. Creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals
- Social perceptiveness: Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do
- Global and cross-cultural competence: The ability to operate in different cultural settings
Working autonomously is a requirement for the future workforce. It means we must be highly skilled leaders on various levels (Deloitte, 2014). Whether this means working for yourself, having more ownership over tasks within an organisation or setting the vision for your company, we will all need skills in influencing, motivating others and driving change. Management and leadership roles are also predicted to be in increasing demand in the future (Bakhshi, 2017).
In addition to this, there may need to be a broader responsibility for supporting others to develop and learn. For example, if more people work independently, they will need support to continue to learn outside of traditional organisational structures. Leading is the ability to lead others by inspiring them with a clear vision and motivating them to realise this.
The concept of all workers being empowered as leaders has even been demonstrated in one of the most hierarchical environments we can imagine – the armed forces. David Marquet was a naval captain onboard an underperforming submarine when he treated his crew as leaders rather than followers and started giving fewer orders (Marquet). This shift was transformational, resulting in proactive, creative workers who could take the initiative.
The ability to lead incorporates the following:
- Inspiring others: The ability to energise and create a sense of direction, purpose, excitement and momentum.
- Influencing: Working to gain the agreement of others to a particular course of action.
- Motivating others: Encouraging others to achieve goals, accomplish tasks, and complete objectives.
- Developing others: The ability to coach and constructively review the work of others to improve and advance their skills, knowledge and performance level.
- Change catalyst: Having the ability to ignite change.
As we forge ahead in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, communication, empathy, collaboration, and leadership skills will be critical for individuals seeking to make a positive impact. By honing these skills, we can navigate social relationships, understand diverse perspectives, work effectively with others, and inspire change. Embracing these skills equips us with the tools necessary to thrive in a rapidly evolving society and create a better future for ourselves and those around us.