Why Human Skills Are More Important Than Hard Skills at Work

March 18th, 2024 – SkillCycle

As technological advances continue to influence our workplaces, the skills required to master those technologies are going to change rapidly. Companies will need to prioritize human skills such as communication, leadership, adaptability, collaboration, coaching, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

“We’re in a period of profound acceleration of technology,” says Jeff Reid, COO, CPO and Co-founder of SkillCycle. “Other advances have transformed how we work and communicate with each other, but nothing like the past 10 or 15 years, or like the next 10 or 15 to come.”

Past performance may have relied on technical skills and job experience, but the future will be more about the capacity to learn and evolve than repeating past successes. Case in point? The top skills predicted for 2025 include analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, and complex problem-solving, according to The World Economic Forum.

Creating a workplace culture that encourages and builds both communication skills and soft skills is critical to effective collaboration and the seamless navigation of change.

“It comes down to treating soft skills as qualities that need to be mastered for success within your organization,” says Reid. 

In this article on expanding soft skills in your workforce, we’ll explore:

  • Why human skills are essential in the workplace — especially now
  • How soft skills contribute to employee experience and business outcomes
  • Strategies to evaluate soft skills when hiring
  • How organizations can nurture employee and leadership soft skills


Why human skills are essential in the workplace — especially now

Human skills will be the standout differentiator in companies that thrive through changes in how we work and where we work. 

Nine out of ten global executives agree that human skills are more important than ever, according to LinkedIn, which refers to these soft skills as “mission-critical.”

Organizations are seeing rapid change in the structure of both their teams and workplaces. In many companies, working remotely or in a hybrid context unlocks a great deal of personal satisfaction and productivity for employees. 

But without question, it can also drive isolation and disconnect. Leaders must lean into the communication skills and soft skills that make us human to guide their teams through these changes effectively. 

“We’ve seen large companies and startups falter in recent years,” says Reid. “In many cases, these occurrences stem from failures in communication or ethics, or an inability to recognize blind spots.”

A high degree of emotional intelligence also helps leaders recognize and understand what their employees are experiencing. The development of communication skills for managers can ease difficult conversations and feedback cycles. These skills can strengthen connection, engagement, and loyalty with the people in your organization. 


How soft skills contribute to employee experience and business outcomes

To work together and unlock productivity gains requires communication and collaboration skills. These capabilities require emotional intelligence and the ability to navigate change.

There is an urgency to skill building now, with half of the organizations surveyed by McKinsey indicating their companies are undergoing a skill transformation. For those that have done so, between 71% and 90% say their skill transformations have positively impacted company outcomes, including strategy, employee performance and satisfaction, and employer reputation. 

“There’s ample data that shows us teams that communicate better also perform better,” says Reid. “They problem-solve better, and they’re creative; these qualities make challenges easier to navigate.”

High turnover is likely if a company struggles with low morale in its workforce. Similarly, if an organization has a lot of churn and can’t keep the people it needs, that directly impacts business performance. 

In contrast, when engagement and performance are high in organizations, retention goes up. These benefits are particularly pronounced when leadership is communicating well, demonstrating values, and accountability. 


Strategies to evaluate soft skills when hiring

Hiring for softer skills will take some effort on the part of leadership. Many companies have prioritized and rewarded hard or technical skills in their employees, and there is room for growth in soft skills from companies and the people they hire. 

When asked which soft skills they feel are hardest to recruit for, 37% of HR professionals said problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity, 32% said the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, and 31% said communication, according to McKinsey.

Some companies conduct personality or psychology assessments as a part of their hiring process. These can offer insights, but it’s wise to understand their limitations. 

For example, a personality assessment won’t guarantee a successful hire or star performance. Still, it can be helpful in gaining a sense of how a new hire might complement some of the strengths and weaknesses of your existing team.

“It’s more valuable to spend time with potential hires to try to understand their journey and how they’ve gotten to where they are today,” says Reid. “Listen to how they speak about their experiences.” 

Hiring is sometimes less about trying to understand the quality of an applicant’s past work, but how they operated, dealt with adversity, collaborated with teammates, and received feedback. While soft skills training for employees can help grow this capacity in your workforce, thoughtful hiring practices can help.


How organizations can nurture employee and leadership soft skills

Leaders can set the tone by developing their own human skills and modeling them in the workplace. This helps communicate the value of these skills and makes it clear they are prized within the organization, not ignored.

“Cultivating human skills absolutely starts with managers and leaders. You can’t take this kind of skill building for granted, and you must invest in it,” says Reid.

Mentoring and coaching can help people on your teams recognize their strengths and unlock potential. Group coaching and bringing teams together to develop these skills and experience what it feels like to work through these challenges together can be very powerful. 

Building communication skills for managers and offering soft skills training for employees can be important investments in your company’s ability to grow and evolve. This type of development not only allows you to positively influence their performance today but also to build the managers and leaders who will steer your company tomorrow. 

Ready to see how SkillCycle can help your teams develop the human skills that lead to top performance? Schedule a demo to learn more. 


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