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Corporate Talent & Inclusion

Why “power skills” is the new term for soft skills in the hybrid work world

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Interpersonal, communicative, and similar "soft" leaderships skills are being rebranded as "power skills" in today's remote and hybrid work environments

Skills related to leadership, teamwork, communication, productivity, and wellness are critical to every employee’s performance, yet the demands of the workplace — and the need for these skills — have shifted dramatically since the onset of the global pandemic two years ago.

Whether it’s adapting to a remote or hybrid work setting, building more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations, or finding new ways to enhance productivity, working in a state of constant flux is now accepted and expected. However, this new reality has a very real impact on employees and their ability to excel, and keeping up with constant change, both in the industry and the workplace, is a serious challenge.

This is why renaming soft skills to power skills is so drastically needed.

The history of the term soft skills appears to come from the U.S. military in the mid-20th century. The military has excelled in training troops on how to use the necessary equipment, but military leaders discovered that how a group of soldiers was led, had a lot to do with the group’s success. As a result, the military set about developing a mechanism for capturing how this information was obtained.

Renaming the skills set

Hard skills, which historically have been perceived as more valuable, refer primarily to technical competencies, while soft skills refer to more human-centered skills, such as communication, social and emotional intelligence, critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, professional attitude, work ethic, career management, and intercultural fluency.

Calling these attributes soft too often discredits their importance, especially in hybrid workforce management. It also undermines the difficulty in mastering them as well as the effort and time it takes, and erodes the recognition of investment and resources that organizations dedicate to teaching and coaching their managers in leadership. Without these so-called soft skills, effective decision-making, teamwork, negotiation, leadership, perseverance, and more — basically anything that helps someone succeed in today’s dynamic business environment — would be deficient.

Instead, changing the term to power skills allows trainers and coaches to stay ahead of the technical curve. Power skills aren’t just nice to have, nor are they are less important to succeed in the workplace — they are essential skills for an ever-changing the workplace.

Udemy Business coined the term power skills to describe those traits formerly known as soft in its 2022 Workplace Learning Trends Report, and elevating them as the top skills necessary to be successful at any level within an organization. Other research and analysis chimed in to echo Udemy’s conclusions, including:

      • Almost two years and what feels to be many lifetimes later, these power skills — communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, empathy, teamwork, creativity and adaptabilitywere in the top 10 of the most in-demand skills employees need to success in the modern workplace, according to online assessment platform Questionmark’s Modern Skills for 2022.
      • For managers, 75% of the skills each manager should possess — visionary leadership, strategy and development, negotiation and conflict management, team building, and interpersonal skills, are arguably power skills.
      • Stand-out managers leading a hybrid team requires developing skills of flexibility, proactive communication, emotional intelligence, and inclusion.

Options for innovating manager effectiveness

Clearly, increasing the quality of managers means equipping supervisors and managers, especially those working within hybrid work environments, will be essential going forward. This is a new operating model for organizations that requires new strategies, and the challenge is no single organization knows how to train their managers at scale on these new skills.

That said, there are several new learning and development companies with expertise in digital, virtual, and online training that are specializing in various options, such as cohort and coaching, to better teach managers the needed power skills for hybrid work environments.

Cohort model — Coursera for Business created a new Leadership Academy to deliver management training at scale and help companies develop the next generation of leaders in hybrid workforce management.

Coaching — Growthspace, an employee development platform, suggests pairing managers with coaches who specialize in remote or hybrid workplace management.

Individual online courses — Udemy offers this online hybrid work management course for individual managers on how to set up, plan, manage, and evaluate a team within the hybrid work model.

Going forward, power skills will be absolutely critical for manager effectiveness in the dynamic, ever-evolving workplace in 2022 and beyond. Options for training in power skills for hybrid work models at scale is a ripe space for innovation with many solutions already in the “yet-to-be developed” category. It will continue to be a fascinating space to watch.

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