Finding a Balance: Technical Skills vs. Soft Skills at Work

April 16th, 2024 – SkillCycle

Embracing a focus on skills can enhance your company’s adaptability to market changes and innovation. Yet, many employers struggle to balance technical skills vs. soft skills as they develop their teams and recruit new hires. 

“Some companies are already prioritizing soft skills, while others have been so historically focused on hard skills that developing human skills may not have even been on their radar,” says Rebecca Taylor, CCO and Co-founder of SkillCycle.

A strategic approach to evaluating skills in your employees and across your organization is vital to recognizing, developing, and investing in both types of skills.

Nearly 90% of executives say skills are becoming important for how organizations define work, deploy talent, manage careers, and value their employees, according to Deloitte.

In this article on technical skills vs. soft skills at work, we’ll explore:

  • Navigating the shift to a skills-based organization 
  • Balancing technical skills vs. soft skills at work
  • How to evaluate and hire for soft skills
  • Developing soft skills for leaders and teams


Navigating the shift to a skills-based organization

A skills-based approach involves shifting from a focus on job titles and roles to evaluating what skills are needed to meet company objectives. 

Through this lens, companies can begin to understand that the value they are building in the organization comes from adding and developing skills in their people. Looking at the skills economy and their own skills inventory helps leaders begin to view employees as the owners of skills that are valuable to the company.

“This language can bridge the gap between operations and HR. Then, they can communicate the value of employees, assess investment into these skills, and how these investments relate to the company’s ability to hit targets,” says Taylor.

A focus on skills can also help support productive conversations about evaluating employees and performance. If someone isn’t thriving in a role, it’s easier to address gaps quickly to ensure the company has the right skills in the right spots.


Balancing technical skills vs. soft skills at work

Hard skills are quantifiable and specific to job roles, while soft skills include human skills like teamwork, communication, and conflict resolution. Blending both skill sets is increasingly important as companies work to strengthen their adaptability.

The top three of 20 core skills predicted to matter most by 2030 are technological skills, social and emotional skills, and higher-level cognitive skills, according to McKinsey. Social and emotional skills are especially important because machines cannot easily replicate them. 

“AI has accelerated some companies’ evaluation of hard vs. soft skills,” says Taylor. “As companies embrace automation in some areas, they realize they can redirect human talent to more worthwhile efforts.”

Progress on this front varies widely, depending on industry and type of organization. Some companies are already working to balance these two types of skills, while others must begin to craft the strategies they’ll need in the future. 

For example, companies in STEM may have prioritized technical expertise over human skills for years due to the technical nature of the work. Yet, even in these industries, soft skills matter. 


Evaluating and hiring for soft skills 

Prioritizing soft skills prepares organizations for the future of work and can give them a competitive advantage. Yet leaders aren’t always well equipped to recognize soft skills in their existing employees. 

“Often, an employee’s soft skills are assessed by feedback from peers because soft skills are about how they do the job, not the results of the job itself,” says Taylor.

This gap in evaluating soft skills can also create less effective interview processes because leaders must try to evaluate something they can’t hear, see, or touch. It’s essential to develop clear ways to determine and measure how they show up through soft skill interview questions and careful listening.

Companies that are getting better at assessing soft skills are starting to define how these skills show up to more easily evaluate them in new hires. 

“There’s a huge opportunity to be more intentional about how people prioritize soft skills and to create a core understanding of how these skills show up,” says Taylor.

These companies also build out soft skill interview questions that will determine whether or not certain skills are evident. How? By asking about experiences in ways that draw information about situations, tasks, actions, and results rather than just milestones. 

For example, if someone is assessing an applicant’s communication skills, they may ask these types of questions while also evaluating the applicant’s behavior that demonstrates these skills as well. For instance, they might evaluate how the applicant has communicated with hiring managers during the interview. 

“Companies that do this well are breaking down the definitions into behaviors to better understand them as competencies,” says Taylor.

People may have a degree of a particular soft skill but not a well-rounded competency relevant to your organization. It’s critical for companies to develop their ability to understand what skills they need first, then begin to identify these skills within their teams or in applicants.


How to develop soft skills for leaders and teams

To develop their own soft skills effectively, leaders must first acknowledge their areas of development. They should foster a mindset of receptiveness to feedback on their soft skills, both strengths and areas needing improvement. 

Additionally, leaders should be willing to step outside their comfort zones to practice behaviors that will enhance their soft skills to allow those skills to thrive. This can require vulnerability but encourages others to do the same.

“It’s important to be open to feedback and recognize that for everyone on the team, soft skill feedback can feel more personal than hard skill feedback,” says Taylor.

To develop and foster soft skills in their teams, leaders should provide ample opportunities for practical learning rather than just learning from theory or textbooks. Creating environments where team members can practice new skills, even if uncomfortable, is also crucial. 

Leaders must allow space for practice sessions to prepare team members for real situations. They can apply the skills they have rehearsed and be confident that they have the necessary training and will resolve the situation. 

Navigating a skills-based economy and balancing different skill sets in your organization is imperative to future success. Schedule a demo to learn more. 


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