Over the last decades we moved from a single job for life to a portfolio career model. According to LinkedIn "the average number of companies professionals worked for in the five years following graduation has nearly doubled" and this is a trend that will accelerate. While LinkedIn expects job-hoping to reduce as employees are getting older, "younger generations are likely to work for more companies in the second decade of their careers than previous generations did".
Several factors have contributed to this change in job mobility: firstly the economic recession in the United States and the European Union (forced mobility, "brain drain"), secondly the fact that Millennials are more interested than previous generations in trying out new jobs before settling on a career (sociologically-driven mobility), and last but not least, the impact of new technology substituting humans in a variety of jobs (technology-driven mobility). The latter is often in the news as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data-enabled robots replace not only farming and manufacturing jobs but also knowledge-based professions like actors, teachers, therapists, lawyers, insurance underwriters, financial analysts, taxi drivers, movie stars, ...
For Human Resources (HR) functions in enterprises this evolution poses a number of serious challenges
This profound transformation of the workplace creates an inflection point, a moment of truth, for every enterprise and enterprise solution provider:
Let us look into those questions in more detail.
With a variety and a constantly increasing number of jobs being performed by AI, Robots and Big Data solutions, soft skills have become the new hiring criteria. Demonstrating resilience, flexibility, adaptability and decision-making is often a far more important employee quality than knowing how to operate a specific piece of software - this can be trained or automated. Accountability and teamwork, as well as having the work ethic and learning ability required to pick-up those vocational skills that are yet to be invented, are more important than encyclopaedic knowledge - Search and Analytics on Big Data can fill such a gap.
Measuring soft skills has evolved tremendously over the last years, away from antiquated text-based questionnaires towards gamified Situational Judgement Tests. This new generation of psychometric tests are made with Millennials and Generation Z in mind i.e. those who have recently entered and / or will soon enter the workplace. Scientific validity is what differentiates serious solution providers from bespoke game developers. An example of a serious solution provider is Owiwi, whose assessment tool allows HR departments to acquire a deep and scientifically reliable insight into a candidate's soft skills profile, and use this as an indicator e.g. in the selection process as well as in training and development.
Beyond the strategic ability to thrive in a changing and often resource-constrained environment, there is a strong financial incentive behind the need for focus of HR departments on soft skills: a US survey has found that miscommunication costs businesses with up to 100 staff an average of US $420,000 per year. Even more staggeringly, in another study, 400 businesses with at least 100,000 employees each claimed that inadequate communication cost an average of US $62.4 million per company per year.
It is therefore no surprise that soft skills assessment tools have become a key part of the HR toolset.
Looking at current enterprise software solutions reveals a gleam picture: they are designed to be operated by a knowledgeable human and optimised to make workflows more efficient. Humans who, as discussed, change jobs increasingly frequently and take the trained knowledge with them as they leave. Workflows for jobs that may cease to exist. This represents an enormous misalignment between the solutions being created and the changing needs of the workplace. Here are some key observations:
Motivated by the above observations, at Neos Chronos we have been working towards developing a new design approach for digital services. The new approach uses AI and Big Data as enabling technologies to move the focus from improving tools, to improving humans, and more specifically their soft skills. We call this design approach "soft skills driven design". The following table provides a comparative view of the evolved approach:
Design today produces tools that
Soft skills driven design produces tools that
Developing according to soft skills driven design requires the designer to answer the question "how does the feature / function / service / ... I am creating improve the user's soft skills?" at the start of the design process. Starting with this question fundamentally changes the outcome.
Let us walk through a number of examples to showcase the difference in approach soft skills driven design introduces. For simplicity, the examples below focus on workplace use cases and software tools.
Imagine the calendar app you know and use today. Now ask the question, how could a calendar app improve the soft skills of its user? Here are some example answers:
The result would be a calendar app that would support its user through recommendations that continuously train good habits. The app would be helping the user become an expert in time management, it would improve the user's conscientiousness in keeping promises (arriving on time) and increase the user's flexibility and adaptability by performing tasks on the user's behalf.
Imagine the mail / messaging app up you use today. Now ask the question, how could a communication app improve the soft skills of its user? Here are some example answers:
The result would be a mail/messaging app that would support its user display a consistent behaviour, enhance its etiquette, reinforce friendliness, self-awareness, and assertiveness soft skills.
Imagine your Customer Relationship Management software. Now ask the question, how could a CRM improve the soft skills of Junior Sales Representatives? Here are some example answers:
The result would be a CRM that would support a junior sales rep learn and display a consistent behaviour, improve its self-confidence, selling and customer service passion soft skills.
More such example cases are possible! Imagine a Sales Manager App that would combine all of the above information with actual performance data, to improve the sales manager's decision-making, consistent behaviour, supervising with confidence, ... soft skills.
The discussion on the danger that may arise from AI and Robots is, and will be, on-going for the foreseeable future. For us, technology evolution represents a unique chance for a better future for humanity if the right "contract" is made upfront. In the future we, at Neos Chronos, would like to live in, this "contract" is software built according to soft skills driven design, with technology creating time and thinking space for humans to evolve their unique skills: creative thinking, empathy, decision-making, ... helping humans reach their full potential.
In this version of the future everyone wins: people, businesses, and society.
Let us discuss the hard facts. Firstly, even the cynics will admit that when all people win, society wins. What about businesses though? Is there an obvious argument to motivate the need for a re-orientation towards soft skills driven design? The answer is "yes".
Which enterprise do you think can cope better with the evolving and rapidly changing workplace? Which enterprise can get a faster and bigger return on investment from their employees? Which enterprise can cope with the inevitable employee churn more effectively?
The obvious answer - by any criteria - is enterprise B, whose tools represent teachable knowledge and experience, and are thus an enterprise-unique asset, and a continuously improving competitive advantage.
Soft skills have become the new constant in the evolving workplace, and tools that can reliably measure soft skills are a key part of the HR toolset. As AI and Big Data are being widely adopted to perform vocational tasks, the future of digital services (enterprise and consumer) lies in soft skills driven design. This new, human-centric, humanity-improving and business-benefiting approach in designing software will pave the way towards a future we, at Neos Chronos, believe is worthwhile living in.
Disclaimer: Neos Chronos acts as an advisor to Owiwi.