– By Stuart Young –
Investing in the right skills to lead your organisation to success, are power skills the new soft skills?
Since the 1980’s we have experienced a digital revolution. An age of disruption where technology is a leading factor in the survival of all businesses. Until now organisations striving for continuous improvement have benefited by investing heavily in a workforce with strong technological skills, or so called ‘hard skills’ but is this enough?
A recent article from Forbes suggests that businesses are reassessing the skills they deem critical. Mark Cuban (American Businessman and Investor) predicted that, “in ten years, a liberal arts degree in philosophy will be worth more than a traditional programming degree. As AI and automation will transform the job market so much that degrees that teach how to think in a big picture way and better collaborate will become more valuable”.
His prediction waves the flag for the softer skills. Skills that we at Agile Thinkers deem essential and a topic worth exploring. So is there merit in the latest trend towards this set of skills? We certainly thought it was worth a conversation.
So we got a bevvy and discussed how these skills really assist an organisation wishing to transform, innovate and deliver value faster.
A conversation between Stuart Young, Innovation Practice Lead and Liz Howard, Head of Culture and Talent @ Agile Thinkers
– As we refreshingly slurp soda water and lime we decide to plunge deep into the topic –
Stu: Let’s begin by defining this set of skills. Unlike technical or ‘hard’ skills, ‘soft skills’ are less about knowledge and more about the behaviours you present in different situations.
Liz: Yes absolutely, most companies are focussing on behaviours as the key to transformation. Important skills, such as; Collaboration, Creativity, Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is essential for Leaders transforming teams and organisations, which includes elements of self awareness.
Stu: No doubt you would agree that this set of skills are critical which will explain their most recent term. In an insightful article in Hackernoon, Azeem Azhar described how misleading the labelling of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills really is. Hard skills are actually the easy ones to grasp. You can wrap your head around them. “I’d propose a rebrand”, suggests Azeem, “Soft is the wrong modifier. These not-hard skills are actually the skills that we most need as individuals, at home and in the workplace. I’d go for “Power Skills”.
Liz: This title works for me. I’m guessing you would agree Mr Visualiser?
Stu: Yep it will be no surprise to those that know me that I’m a strong advocate for assisting individuals to power up their power skills, fundamentally in the form of visualisation to assist with team collaboration, communication, problem solving and idea generation. Don’t just take my word for it. In an academic study by Anneliese Tillmann ‘What We See and Why It Matters’ 2012, Anneliese shares various insights from multiple sauces on the importance of visual literacy. “When children are first introduced to literature, it is often in the form of picture books. Children learn to associate the pictures with meaning because they cannot read the words on the page (O’Neil, 2011)”. So visual thinking and creative power skills are less about the ability to pick up a sharpie and doodle but more so the ability to analyse, explore and critic visual information as well as to be effective in visual communication.
Liz: So visualisation is an effective way to gain understanding and tackle problem solving. And aids innovation right?
Stu: Absolutely. An organisation wishing to embrace an innovation mindset doesn’t need to invest in a trendy Innovation lab equipped with bean bags, ball-pits and beer fridges. It needs to foster an appetite for experimentation, ideation and fast learning. Simple visualisation/ low fidelity prototyping techniques will greatly assist a team to gain a deep rooted understanding of customer needs and test/ validate design ideas quickly and effectively. Oh and just in case our readers are not keeping up I’m still talking about power skills not hard skills.
Stu: So how do these power skills really enable a successful organisational transformation?
Liz: Transformation is all about changing the way people think and act and this can be tricky because people are complex. People are not computer programs that we can easily ‘hack’. We can bring in new systems and products but its people that implement them and use them. Its people who bring creative ideas that enable companies to compete in today’s market.
Stu: So how easy is it to change people’s behaviours, how can we bring about more creativity and innovation?
Liz: It’s not that easy at all, but it is absolutely possible. People already have the ability to change built in. We can adapt, think differently and be creative. The fundamental mistake organisations make is to assume people don’t have these abilities and we have to teach them or hire people with them. What we need to focus on is creating an environment where people can be empowered, collaborate and be creative. Many traditional organizations are not built like this though. They run on hierarchy and micro management. Transformational leaders are essential in creating an environment where people can innovate, create and feel engaged in change. Visualising strategy and using stories is a highly effective way to get people to understand and feel motivated to be part of something exciting – as you said Stu, it’s what we are introduced to from an early age.
Liz: What do you think Stu, what does a creative environment look like for you?
Stu: Everything you have eluded to Liz. From idea to innovation takes creativity and creativity is in the hands of individuals and teams. A creative environment should be an environment where visualisation is embraced throughout the fruition of a product lifecycle. During ideation sessions, retrospectives and show and tells to name a few. Agile teams need to bake in time for innovation activities and have fun. Oh and not improve their creativity power skills on a Sunday painting class but through the courage of practicing collaborative drawing. Remember process over art, simplicity is key and communication over decoration.
Stu: So what’s the link between power skills and creating this environment?
Liz: Business Leaders have the challenge of helping people feel safe to flex their own power skills and try something new without knowing it will work. Coaching is a key power skill that can encourage self development and learning. Leaders also need to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and be aware of blindspots that maybe holding them back, or affecting others. So we come to another power skill – Emotional Intelligence.
Stu: What exactly is Emotional intelligence and is it hard wired or learned?
Liz: Well that’s a long standing debate, the old nature nurture discussion – think we may need another soda pop! Here is my very very very abridged answer…
Roughly 3,000 articles have been published on EI (also referred to as EQ), since the concept was introduced in the 90s. Evidence shows that our level of EQ is not entirely rigid, but our ability to identify and manage our own and others’ emotions is relatively stable. What this means is that improvements will require a significant personal investment and lots of support. Power skills like coaching are essential to developing EI and many exec and leadership development programmes will incorporate this.
- Regardless of method or practice, power skills are critical.
- Power skills can be enhanced through experiential learning and team collaboration
- Organisations should invest in people with the right skills and coach them to develop these skills.
- Creating the right culture is key to helping people power up and be creative
- Leaders will need to invest time in refining their own power skills and helping their teams do the same
At Agile Thinkers power skills play centre stage throughout each of our practice areas of Innovation, Lean Agile, Scaling and Business Agility. See our practices in video. They are also ingrained across our Training and Development, Coaching and Consulting and Teams and Practitioners services.
Why not contact Agile Thinkers today to find out how we can support you and your organisations to develop these power skills?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stuart is a professional live illustrator with extensive traditional/ Agile Project management experience and a deep-rooted appreciation for Agile Principles and Methodologies. He has harnessed his creative skills to translate concepts and processes into engaging visuals during workshops, events and conferences.
With international notoriety within the Agile Community, Stuart has provided his services at various Scrum Alliance Global Gatherings/ Retreats. In addition he has illustrated at an endless list of popular Agile conferences such as the Agile Testing Days in Berlin, the Lean Agile Scotland Conference and the London Lean Kanban event.