Back to front page

Soft Skills are the new Hard Skills

In this complex, competitive, data-driven world everything is moving faster and faster. It’s a world characterised by continual change, ubiquitous connectivity and almost unlimited access to knowledge resources.

Organisations these days have very little time to acquire, integrate, develop, protect and safeguard knowledge. It just takes too long. By the time you have done all this everything has changed again.

As a result, we find that the relevance of qualifications and knowledge (i.e. hard skills) are decreasing at higher rates. In other words, disruption has now become the norm and it’s the very nature of technology automation and machine learning to target hard skills as low hanging fruit.

A recent study compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute predicted by 2030 as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation.

What works now is only temporary. Your subject matter expertise is transitory. 

Soft skills remain the bastion of human intelligence, creativity, problem-solving and innovation. This is the reason everybody is talking about the importance of soft skills. It’s a global topic that has been gaining momentum. It’s no wonder soft skills are now being regarded as more important than hard skills.

Does this mean that inevitably your hard skills will rapidly become irrelevant? Short answer… Yes!

OK, but what exactly are soft skills?

“Soft Skills” is a commonly recognised term, one we as a market economy have latched onto and adopted as a differentiator to “Hard Skills”. This makes sense because soft skills are harder to define, test and measure than someone’s hard skills.

Because they are harder to define and measure, we see all kinds of desirable attributes or behaviours being given the soft skills moniker.

But one thing that is inevitable is the fact that soft skills are indeed still… Skills! They have a measurable proficiency that is objective, comparable and transferable across industries professions organisations and roles.

In a previous blog titled Competency + Character + Capability = You we made the distinction between soft skills (capability), hard skills (competency) and personality traits (character).

We’re seeing a shift towards soft skills, but you don’t have to be born with a high emotional intelligence (EQ) or natural proficiencies. Soft skills can be taught and can be improved upon with practice.

According to Open Universities Australia businesses that invest in training their staff in soft skills get a 250% return on investment within eight months.

Soft Skills are the skills you apply when figuring out how to solve problems. 

Soft Skills or Transferrable Capabilities are the skills you apply when figuring out how to solve problems. These are the skills that every business professional needs irrespective of role, organisation, profession or industry.

You can have the most developed hard skills in the world but if you can’t communicate with people, create fit-for-purpose solutions and build trust with others, at the level that the role requires, then those hard skills are less useful and less relevant.

As we progress our careers, we will need to learn how to operate in increasingly complex work environments, address increasingly difficult business problems and contribute greater value to our organisations. Some people operate effectively in well-structured, predictable environments and others are better in unpredictable, highly ambiguous situations.

PROCEDURAL Follow Processes ADMINISTRATIVE Run Processes OPERATIONAL Be an Expert TACTICAL Improve Operations STRUCTURAL Change the Business INTEGRATIVE Align the People ARCHITECTURAL Design Environments STRATEGIC Execute Strategy SOCIOLOGICAL Transform Organisations More complex problems Less complex problems
The Headway Complexity Scale

Whatever your preference is, you need to develop your soft skills in line with the complexity of problems you are required to solve as part of your role. The more complex the problem you are solving the more advanced your soft skill capabilities need to be.

For example, Entry level employees generally begin in low-complexity roles. Their activities are predetermined, their decisions are procedural, the problems they solve are well understood, their solutions are pre-determined, their success drivers are straightforward, their timeframes are short term and they have direct control over their outcomes.

On the other hand, Senior Managers tend to have high complexity roles. Their activities are driven by contextual needs, their decisions require first-principles consideration, the problems they solve are often confounding, their solutions are almost always bespoke, their success drivers are amorphous, and they do not have direct control over their outcomes. Often, they don’t even have direct influence, much less direct control. In these instances, they need to know how to shape the environmental context so that it enables the organisation to self-correct towards the intended direction. How’s that for a sophisticated skillset?!

Headway defines 20 Soft Skills in 4 Capability Domains.

The five soft skill capabilities in each domain are defined by how they are applied as part of the problem-solving process and each skill can be measured in terms of complexity.

Ideally, people should develop these evenly but this is not often the case as some roles demand that certain skills take precedence over others, especially in a team situation.

communication
Listening is ‘Hearing’ with interest and attention. People have different ways of listening.
How to take what you have heard or already know and apply it in a different context or for a different audience.
Putting thoughts and information into a medium others can interpret.
Personal delivery of information or ideas to a group or an individual.
What ideas and information you communicate and how you communicate them.
analysis
Applying a logical, scientific approach to problem solving and decision-making.
How you apply your thought process to new situations and problems.
Objectively measuring and considering information to aid decision-making.
Determining which option or action is best.
Your ability to define, choose and commit to a course of action.
design
Embracing innovative thinking to add value.
Considering how all the facets interconnect to deliver a sustainable outcome.
Replicating or reflecting a subject or situation to get clarity and insight.
Determining what you need to do, how you're going to do it and the resources required.
Producing specific results and achieving measurable outcomes.
Your ability to put yourself in another person's situation, and know what they're going through.
Understanding how your role and behaviours fit within the working community, and impact on it.
Getting everyone on the same page to find common ground, and agree on shared outcomes.
Getting people to consider ‘thinking and doing’ differently to the usual way of ‘thinking and doing’.
Working with and through people to achieve outcomes.
The 20 soft skills required for successful problem solving. Click/tap each one for their definition.
How developed are your soft skills?

Map your “soft” skills and find out!

When you complete your Headway DNA, with your results you’ll receive your own 12-month professional development plan with development actions tailored to you.


Topics in this article

soft skills
transferrable capabilities