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Soft skills for success in a hard world

Soft skills for success in a hard world

Unfortunately, most of us don’t realise that being excellent technically isn’t the whole story. There are several other critical pieces we need for long-term success in this age of AI, robots and exponential change

Credit: ID 107480381 © Alongkorn Paingam | Dreamstime.com

These are what we are missing when we're heads down, tails up, as busy as a snowmaking machine at the start of winter, working on developing our technical skills

Campbell Such, Bidfood

What's one of the biggest problems we face today in our businesses, due to the impact of technology and transformation?

It's not the technology – that's the opportunity.

It's not the systems and processes – they might be a challenge, but we can change those.

It's the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer rate of change. 

Specifically, the overwhelm from the exponential rate of change on our people and teams.

And when we feel overwhelmed what happens?

We have trouble making decisions. 

When we have trouble making decisions, it can damage our confidence.

And when our confidence goes down, what tends to happen?

People in our teams hold back.

When people hold back what happens is progress slows or stops. Our teams get frustrated and stop having fun. They become disengaged and demotivated. Morale gets hit and output drops. Our businesses miss out. Competitors go past us. And there's a high chance our companies' bottom lines are impacted.

However, if we can turn that around, so we're not holding back and we are making progress, we start to become more confident. 

When we're more confident, what begins to happen?

We make better decisions. And when we make better decisions?

The overwhelm goes away. We stop feeling frustrated, and start having fun. Teamwork improves. Output goes up. We keep competitors at bay. We help make the boat go faster

When this happens, the people in our teams and businesses are far more likely to be:

  • Engaged

  • Motivated

  • Delivering and working well in their roles and teams

  • Building successful careers with you and your business

What is it that will minimise the impact of exponential change and overwhelm on our team members, and support a successful career?

Four essential pillars support a successful technical career

Four pillars that are crucial for long term career success in the 4th Industrial Revolution – in this age of AI, big data, robots and exponential change.

There’s one we all tend to start with. But three others will massively increase our chances of long term career success.

It’s critical to get these three additional pillars in place, then reinforce and grow them for ourselves and our teams, through our lifetimes.

What are those four pillars?

The one we all generally start with is technical skills.

It seems, we instinctively know, when we set out in our careers that our focus needs to be on becoming top-notch technically. That if we do this we give ourselves the best chance to be successful. 

And we're right. 

However, this is where so many of us limit ourselves and miss out. 

We tend to think being terrific technically is all we need for career success

To become a stellar developer, network engineer, business analyst, tester, technical writer …. This all makes perfect sense since we're heads down, tails up, as busy as a snowmaking machine at the start of winter, working on developing our technical skills.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t realise that being excellent technically isn’t the whole story, that there are several other critical pieces we need for long term success.

But it's not surprising we may not see there's more to it. How would we? 

Unless, by chance, we recognise the value in someone else's career; we have a bent in that direction; or have a manager or mentor, that helps us to both recognise the value and develop the skills.

Sadly this is about as rare as an honest politician and tends to be the exception. Which means a large number of us don’t recognise the value of these until much later in our careers. 

Many of us never do.

Which leads to the question: "What are the additional three pillars we need?"

Let’s start with building a network of connections

Network of connections

There’s an African proverb about the value of teamwork:

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Being able to work in a team and build a network of, both internal and external, connections, will pay huge dividends over your lifetime.

Credit: ID 11051245 © Michael Manzano | Dreamstime.com

The key is not to look at your network as a series of transactions, but as ongoing relationships you build with people you like

Campbell Such, Bidfood

As author and former Yahoo! executive Tim Sanders says:

"Your network is your net worth"

A strong network is like money in the bank. Your network can help you build visibility, connect you with others who can help with your career, help you find jobs or candidates, solve problems and open up doors for new opportunities.

The challenge is how to get the members of our teams to recognise the immense value of building a network of connections.

"Don't talk to strangers" is what most parents drum into their kids.

It's no wonder many of us (maybe most?) find it as difficult and challenging to build new connections and relationships, as donning a parachute and jumping out of a plane.

Because of that, even when we recognise the value and have the skill, it's still an ongoing challenge to push past our reluctance. Especially if we're weighted towards the introverted side of the introvert/extrovert scale. Which many of us technical professionals are.

And yet talking to strangers (and feeling comfortable with it) is exactly what we need to connect with others, and build a strong and valuable network.

The good news is some simple but powerful techniques make it far less intimidating and possibly even enjoyable to meet and connect with new people.

And just as importantly, to apply and use the skills so they become part of us … second nature. 

How do you go about getting those skills?

There are two keys to it: 

The first is to recognise the value of building a network of connections.  For both ourselves and our team(s). This is the 'why' that helps create and build the motivation to go do it.

The second key is to look for someone who can show you or your team 'how'.

  • A coach or mentor with the skills to help

  • A switched on, effective and successful manager, who also recognises the value and will support you

  • An HR person who can assist with getting help to learn

The coaching/training could be:

  • Individually or as part of a team

  • Internally/externally instructor lead

  • Via online courses.

If you're a manager, raise the idea and discuss the value in the conversations you have with your team. Help them to see the massive value of a network of connections. 

Then start with the members of your teams that show interest and are motivated – and help them with strategies, tools, coaching and training.

As a manager, if you're not confident to do that, is there someone in your business or in your network that might help? If not there are onsite or offsite, instructor-led courses, or online courses available

The counterintuitive thing about building a powerful network is that it's not about 'networking' (which has such a stigma about it). 

The real secret is it's about having conversations with people, finding the ones you like or 'click' with, and then building a connection over time – without the expectation of anything in return in the short term.

The key is not to look at your network as a series of transactions, but as ongoing relationships you build with people you like. Look at how you can help and add value to those people. Do that and your connections will grow strong. 

There's a saying "Dig your well before you need it." It's the same with your network of connections.

As you connect with more people, the size of your network of connections will increase and, like compound interest, the value of it will appreciate exponentially over time.

To summarise:

  • We're in the early stages of the 4th Industrial Revolution

  • Exponential change is a challenge for all of us. Our brains aren't built to cope with it. It can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed.

  • And when we're overwhelmed, we struggle to make decisions, hold back and progress slows in our businesses and our careers

  • We can massively increase our chances of success as we go forward in our careers, and cope with exponential change, by adding three critical pillars to being great technically - which is what we typically focus on in our  early career. 

  • The first of those three pillars is building a network of connections. It's all about conversations leading to relationships with people you like. It's not transactional it's about adding value. And yes, "Dig your well before you need it."

Watch out for the second and third pillars in my next column.

Credit: Supplied

Campbell Such is GM IT for Bidfood, a wholesale food distribution business and a top 50 company in NZ. He has a varied career in New Zealand and internationally, working in technology, management and roles in marketing and sales. Reach him at Campbell.such@bidfood.co.nz, @campbell_such, LinkedIn and through his blog.

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Tags strategymanagementsoft skillsCoachingcareerrobotsmentoringEQCampbell Such4th industrial revolutionIndustry 4.0Bidfoodcontinuous learningleadershipproject managementCIOexponential changebusiness prioritiesf AI

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