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Solving Critical Talent Shortages by Embracing Soft Skills

In the ever-shifting tapestry of the modern workplace, the spotlight is firmly on the intricacies of talent attraction and retention. As industries charge ahead and novel technologies emerge, the conventional practice of hiring based solely on hard skills is proving to be inadequate. In this blog post, we embark on a journey to uncover the essence of skills-based hiring, to distinguish between hard and soft skills, and to illuminate the pivotal role that soft skills play in shaping a company's culture while mitigating the conundrum of employee turnover.


The Dance of Hard Skills and Soft Skills


The delicate interplay between hard skills and soft skills is a crucial part of recruitment. Hard skills stand as specific, teachable proficiencies, honed through training and experience. These skills often revolve around technical expertise or industry acumen and are measurable and quantifiable.


Soft skills are intangible gems, and are woven into the fabric of interpersonal dynamics, communication finesse, and behavioural adaptability. They encompass qualities like flexibility, teamwork, creative insight, and the art of effective problem-solving. There aren’t necessarily “good” or “bad” soft skills, just different ones that better match (or compliment) companies and teams.


Recently, there has been a huge focus on “(hard) skills-based hiring” in recruitment. The main driving rationale being that this approach reduces bias and discrimination - if you strip a person down to just their technical skill level and rank candidates based on that, there is no opportunity for things like racial discrimination or unconscious bias to influence the application. It’s also a lot easier to search and find tangible hard skills like “marketing degree” in your ATS than it is to find candidates for an intangible soft skill like “creativity”.


But as the Harvard Business Review underscores, "While hard skills are undeniably important, soft skills are just as vital for organisational success." The study highlights that soft skills often determine an employee's effectiveness in a team and overall job performance. Hiring decisions based primarily on technical proficiency may result in candidates who lack the cultural fit or interpersonal qualities needed to thrive in the organisation.


Navigating Turnover Currents and Economic Context


The winds of change have been ushering in a rising tide of employee turnover, spurred by a plethora of factors, including economic shifts and the changing demographic mosaic of the workforce. In the case of the United States, Gartner's projections envision a significant uptick in annual employee turnover post-pandemic. This phenomenon is by no means isolated, as Australia is grappling with its own struggles with talent retention despite historic lows in unemployment.


Companies and recruiters need to have a more open mind when it comes to the new war for talent, thus the old hard skills focused approach is no longer adequate, and may be skipping over some real hidden gems.


Harmonising Soft Skills and Company Culture


At the core of this discourse beats the heart of company culture. The orchestra of a cohesive and harmonious workspace is composed of shared values, open lines of communication, and a symphony of collaborations. Soft skills are the soulful notes that harmonise this culture. Employees wielding strong soft skills become virtuoso contributors, orchestrating teamwork, fostering innovative riffs, and weaving a sense of belonging. The aptitude for cultural synchronisation ensures that team members resonate with the company's ethos, thereby casting a spell that alleviates turnover.


People often make the mistake of thinking too hard about culture fit. How does this person fit with our culture? Are they a good company fit? But as Sharlene Roebuck, former Global Head of TA puts it, we need to shift our thinking to culture add:


"When we look for someone who simply fits with our culture, we’re creating an environment of stagnation, bias, and potential discrimination. Instead we need to hire people who complement and add to our culture. This creates diversity of thought, which years of research has shown the benefits of."

That’s not to say that there isn’t an inherent baseline of culture fit that new employees need to hit. If someone doesn’t align with your core values, it doesn’t matter how much potential diversity of thought they might bring - they’re probably not going to be a great match for your company. The bottom line is: find the people who are singing from the same hymn book, and then look for the ones that sing in ranges you don’t have.


The Culture-Centric Odyssey


To counter the tide of turnover, organisations are called to recalibrate their lenses from a skills-centric vantage to a culture-centred horizon. While hard skills can be nurtured through a kaleidoscope of training and development programs, cultivating the garden of soft skills and cultural consonance is a nuanced endeavour. By elevating candidates who exude the right soft skills and seamlessly blend and add with the cultural tapestry, companies cast the spotlight on a workforce that flourishes within a harmonious and productive ecosystem.


Echoing the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) cadence, "Employers who prioritize hiring for culture fit recognize that employees who resonate with the company culture are apt to be more industrious, less prone to departure, and more apt to embody the very ethos of the enterprise."


The Learning and Development Overture


In the grand symphony of talent enhancement, it is insufficient merely to recognize the importance of cultivating hard skills. A robust learning and development program stands as the crescendo, translating this cognizance into tangible fruition. While soft skills imbue the culture and mitigate turnover, hard skills act as the scaffolding underpinning productivity and innovation. A comprehensive learning and development odyssey equips employees with the requisite hard skills, nurturing their capacity to excel in their roles and contribute to the crescendo of the company's success.


It’s worth noting here that there is a perception that soft skills are impossible to learn, and are simply inherent to who you are as a person. An uncreative person can never learn to be creative. An inflexible person can never become more flexible. This is simply not true, it is absolutely possible to “learn” soft skills, it’s just considerably more difficult.


Conclusion


In a period where the scarcity of talent and the undertow of turnover threaten the foundation of enterprises, the clarion call of skills-based hiring reverberates. Yet, the melody must encompass both hard and soft skills, harmonising technical prowess with the symphony of a vibrant company culture. By embracing the significance of soft skills and anchoring a culture-centric ethos, organisations etch their course toward an enduring prosperity in the ever-shifting tableau of the business realm.


There are a number of HR Tech Solutions for helping you better assess employees for soft skills, better identify hard skill learning opportunities, and better implement a learning and development program. If you’re interested in finding out how to best ride this new wave of soft skills-focused hiring, give us a call.



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