The other morning, I stumbled across an absorbing McKinsey article that really made me think.

It covered a favorite topic of mine – the pressing need for organizations to develop soft skills for the future, and why that soft skill development needs to start right away.

So, I sipped my coffee and started scanning, mostly just nodding in agreement until one term, in particular, caught my eye and captured my heart.

That term was “Reskilling”. Now, I’m aware it’s just jargon for cultivating more skills, but I loved the urgency it conveyed and how very much it seemed like a call to action. Because action is exactly what it triggered in me (always the behavioral analyst), and I began brainstorming how we can be ready for the future by changing old skills for new ones.

What Are The Specific Skills We Need?

Before we even begin to consider imparting new skills, we need to consider what we’re trying to teach. (We already know our why!)

In my opinion, these are soft skills that are important for reskilling:

#1 Adaptive Communication

No more “What specific style do I want to improve?” but more, “How can I use different communication styles to fit the situation?” In Sphere of Influence 360 terminology, this is style flexibility – the capacity to switch between different influencing styles depending on our circumstances. This involves cultivating people’s ability to focus on and emphasize work content, project goals, and relationships.

One moment tuning in to details is most productive, while the other moment the situation will call for more empathy, connection, and relationship building.

#2 Negotiation Skills

In the past, negotiation was about convincing, or what I consider “selling, telling, and sending messages. If you could persuade others to ‘buy’ your message you got ahead, landing the sale, the promotion, or what have you.

Relying on one strong approach and your opinion is less effective now; group work has become a priority because it lets us complement skills, be more productive, and synergize. It’s not about what you think is best, but what is best for the group. One key outcome is that alignment matters, and to align, we need to adjust our approaches. Rather than using a Convince Style all the time, skills like connecting and active listening should be prioritized.

#3 Empathy

Expanding this a little more, there are several reasons empathy deserves to be a focal point for development.  

To start with, people are under relatively high pressure now. Showing that you care and paying extra attention to the perception, feelings and experience of people is therefore crucial. People feel safe and appreciated if their leader or colleagues are attentive and compassionate.

Furthermore, we already mentioned the increasing importance of working as a team. To accelerate as a team, people will need to work better together and strengthen this unique advantage. Imagine how agile your team could be if everyone had a good understanding of everyone else’s viewpoints. When they possess the empathy to see things from other people’s perspectives. Then they would be able to work as one, wouldn’t you agree?

#4 Leadership Styles

It’s not news that cultivating a range of diverse leadership Styles in today’s and tomorrow’s co-workers is important. Let’s put it in Sphere of Influence 360 terms:

  • Command of the Instruct Style will always be necessary for situations where time is short or quick reactions to the environment are required.
  • A Direct Style is critical as we face ever-more turbulent times and need to make sense, create structure, and build clarity.
  • Inspiring others equips people to convey the WHY that’s so invaluable in this VUCA world while helping others stay enthusiastic about it when task-switching to achieve that why, and
  • A Coaching Style may be the most important style, given that we’re talking about reskilling. Essentially, coaching is going to play a huge part in imparting those soft skills continuously.

Taking steps to ensure that leaders can adeptly implement and switch between these styles is a must.

Measuring Skills

Here’s something I’ve always said about communication: “You can talk about it, or you can measure it.” A rather scientific approach, I know, but I think the time for talking is over.

If we’re going to develop soft skills in others, tracking and evaluating our progress will be essential to know how we’re doing – whether that’s through feedback, self-reflection, or both. Measuring soft skills like Influencing Styles, Leadership Styles, and Style adaptability is critical if people are to understand their starting points, and how far they’ve come.

Wouldn’t you want to know your communicative strengths?

Reskilling = Continuous Learning

Ultimately, reskilling is about continuous learning. Can you imagine logging into a Udemy course with zero empathy, then logging out fully transformed?

Neither. Social skills need to be learned and honed in social environments; think blended learning that combines ‘the usual suspects’ (workshops, classes, etc.) with the non-traditional (peer coaching, mentoring, and more). One final, important thing to keep in mind: People repeat rewarded behaviors. While it may be tempting to ‘speed up’ learning, organizations and leaders should avoid punishing counterproductive behaviors. By focusing instead on rewarding signs of the soft skills we’ve looked at today, I’m sure we’ll start to see some truly impressive results from reskilling.