How to Mobilize Power Skills to Future-Proof Your Organization
As technology continues to accelerate and we settle into the new world of work post-COVID, organizations are asking big questions about what factors lead to success. More and more businesses are reimagining their priorities around hiring and developing employees, implementing tactics such as upskilling, career pathing, and skills-based hiring practices.
A hot topic in this conversation is the concept of power skills—a new way of thinking about employee strengths and weaknesses that can have a huge impact on productivity, innovation, and profitability.
What are power skills, and how can you mobilize them both within existing teams and throughout your recruitment process? Read on to find out.
What Are Power Skills and Why Are They in High Demand?
While the growth of technology has changed life and work in many ways, tech will always have its limitations—and that’s where power skills come in. Power skills are those abilities that make an employee successful at the human elements of their job—the interactive, communication, and leadership skills that a robot or computer could never replace.
Formerly called “soft skills,” power skills are gaining popularity and have even been heralded as the future of work. These are the hard-to-pin-down skills like problem-solving, communication and teamwork, creativity, empathy, and adaptability that help employees navigate a fast-changing and collaborative organizational ecosystem.
Their popularity as an HR buzzword has exploded as the fallout from COVID-19 revolutionized how Americans work. From a more mobile and hybrid workforce, to renewed commitment to DEI initiatives, to the race to maximize productivity in an uncertain economy, employers are realizing that graceful adaptability is a key trait for successful employees in countless roles.
In the new world of work, it’s clear that power skills are not just nice to have, but essential to keep organizations running smoothly. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize these skills when building your organization’s team.
Why Is It So Hard to Hire for Power Skills?
Power skills are much more abstract and objective than technical skills, which can make prioritizing them in hiring easier said than done. After all, if you’re looking for an employee who is skilled at coding, all you have to do is ask applicants to code something. What if you’re looking for someone skilled at leadership, or innovation, or empathy?
One way of conceptualizing this problem, according to HR analyst Josh Bersin, is that “hard skills are soft… and soft skills are hard.” That is, the so-called “hard” technical skills are constantly changing with technology, and they’re straightforward (if not necessarily easy) to learn. “Soft” power skills, on the other hand, are more universal, harder to build, and often more demanding when done well.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for HR is that power skills are difficult to measure. Despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence, both job applicants and employers often struggle to find metrics that link power skills to their tangible impacts on organizational goals. That makes it harder for applicants to prove their skills, harder for hiring managers to assess them, and harder for HR to advocate for training and development to improve them.
How Can HR Foster Power Skills Among Their Teams?
Despite these challenges, it is possible to substantially improve power skills at your organization. Here’s how.
Start with your existing team members. It’s easy to get tunnel vision around hiring in this tight labor market, but it’s important to start at the source: your current team.
- Encourage a growth mindset. Before employees can begin to develop their power skills, they have to be open to change. As opposed to a fixed mindset—in which a person sees their own strengths and weaknesses as “fixed” or permanent—a growth mindset is one in which change and improvement are achievable with practice.
- Consider coaching or cohorts. It’s especially important for managers to develop their power skills in areas like leadership, social and emotional intelligence, and communication. Pairing them with coaches or creating cohorts of several managers can give them opportunities to practice their own power skills so they can foster them in direct reports as well.
- Implement 360-degree feedback. Since it’s hard to track power skills with metrics, look for ways to incorporate feedback in other forms. Team members who work directly with one another are best suited to evaluate the human skills of their colleagues. At BerniePortal, for example, we hold “skip-level 1:1s” three times a year, where team members meet with their manager’s manager to discuss goals, questions, and how things are going.
Once you have a system in place to cultivate power skills in your existing employees, work to prioritize them in your hiring practices as well.
- Attract the skills you want. For each department, identify target power skills that will best suit the team and its goals—and put them in the job description. (You can even make an internal candidate persona to help you visualize these traits.) This will help attract people who are likely to be a good fit, even if they might need a little training on the technical aspects of the role.
- Assess for a culture fit. At BerniePortal, applicants complete the DiSC personality assessment during the hiring process, but you could also consider the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or a number of other assessments to get a sense of how candidates work with others.
- Guide the conversation. When you interview applicants, ask questions that encourage behavioral information in their responses. For example, you can use the STAR method to ask for information about the situation, task, action, and result of a specific scenario the candidate has experienced. You can also talk about your company culture and ask them about what type of culture they thrive in.
- Listen between the lines. What a candidate says during the interview process is only one piece of the puzzle. Listen for how they answer your questions as well. Do their examples suggest effective human skills? Do they approach negotiation with a win-win attitude? Is their written and verbal communication clear and effective? This information can often tell you more about power skills than their claims do.
- Consult an outside source. You can only learn so much about a candidate from a short hiring process, so it’s crucial that you contact references for top applicants before extending an offer. A former manager or coworker has potentially known the candidate for years and can report effectively on how they solve problems, make decisions, and adapt to change—none of which are evident from a simple resume.
Developing power skills in your current team and selecting new hires who have these skills is no easy task. But it’s necessary if you want your organization to be agile and resilient enough to prosper throughout the years. Technical skills are still important, but as times change, it’s the power skills of leadership, communication, creativity, and problem solving that will carry your organization forward.
You can stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:
- BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop-shop for HR industry news
- HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
- HR Guides—essential pillars, covering an extensive list of comprehensive HR topics
- BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
- HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics
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