The Importance of Soft Skills … and Research

The Washington Post recently ran an article “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students.” Though the title makes it seem as if the lessons are for current students, the point of the article is just as important for current employees and employers. The “surprising” thing that Google found is described in this paragraph (emphasis mine):

Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

As our members and clients may recall, Brandon Hall Group’s report, Performance Management 2016: People Over Process, contained the following, “There is a direct correlation between the existence of a coaching culture in an organization and the perceived effectiveness and business value of their performance management.” I’m glad to see our friends at Google have found similar results after a large study. But since 2015, a lot of the research we have conducted has shown this same theme –  the rise of importance of soft skills, and a more people-centric approach to HCM.

As we’ve noted before, this is likely from a combination of factors, including:

  • A younger and more mobile workforce
  • Better technology that enables automation of non-people-centric functions
  • A natural pendulum swing from the early ‘00s when HR was dominated by technical, financial, or operational mindsets.

The real question is what we should do differently once the importance of these soft skills is realized. I would start at the beginning, during pre-hire. In Brandon Hall Group’s just-released 2018 Assessment Practices Study, we asked, “Does your organization utilize any pre-hire and/or employee assessment technology solutions?” Only 54% said they did, which means nearly half of organizations are not making use of the tools available to determine if those all-important soft skills are present in their incoming employees. For those of you who read our research and have begun hiring for and developing those soft skills already, well done. For the rest of you, realize that Google has now caught on as well, and the market is going to be that more competitive now.

–Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Talent Management/Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group

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