In the lead up to IABC’s 25 October event – ‘The rise of the robots’ – we explore a rather unexpected shift that’s hidden deep inside the current wave of technology-based automation. This shift is ironic. It’s counter-intuitive. And it has enormous implications for the role and importance of corporate communication. It’s the fact that soft is becoming the new hard.
In an early 2017 episode of his Sky News program ‘The Next Five Years’, the well-known Australian demographer, Bernard Salt, interviewed Dr Hugh Bradlow[i]. Hugh is Telstra’s Chief Scientist and one of Australia’s most highly regarded technology futurists.
During the interview, Bernard asked Hugh what he thought were the most important skill-sets we will need as we move into a more automated future. Coming from a self-confessed “geek”, it would be reasonable to expect Hugh’s first answer might be something like STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or coding.
But it wasn’t. Hugh’s first answer was empathy.
There is a tendency to group organisational skills into two categories – ‘hard’ and ‘soft’.
Hard skills represent the more technical, functional skills that a person brings to an organisation. Meanwhile, soft skills are the more human capabilities, like collaboration, creativity and emotional intelligence.
Traditionally, organisations have valued the hard skills, while the soft skills have been pigeon-holed by many (although, of course, not all) as the touchy-feely stuff that communication and HR teams talk about.
This imbalance, however, may have had its day. The rise of automation is bringing with it a major shift.
Moving forward, many of our hard skills will become automated. Already, there are machine-based options for tasks as widespread as bricklaying and auditing.
At the same time, the soft skills will become more important than ever before. In other words, the more prevalent automation becomes, the more important humanity becomes.
This irony exists for three reasons.
First, the ability to work with others (whether it’s leading, collaborating, selling or serving) will remain both critical and difficult to automate. The same applies to a range of other higher-level human capabilities, such as creativity, complex judgment and problem-solving.
Second, the radical change that organisations are now facing is much faster than what we have experienced in the past… and it will only get faster. As a result, the ability to support people and guide culture will be more important than it’s ever been.
And, finally, it is people, not technology, that will ultimately differentiate an organisation. Over the next few years, the pace and quality of an organisation’s digital transformation will be a source of enormous competitive advantage. But, ultimately, the more automated organisations become, the more homogeneous they will be. The only thing that will differentiate them will be the capabilities, decisions and actions… the culture… of their people.
What does this mean for corporate communicators?
To successfully take the journey ahead, leaders are going to need some pretty special people to support them. Among the extensive strategic, operational and technological skills required, there will be growing demand for many corporate communication capabilities. These include:
- Bringing the future to life to help set the direction and drive the impetus for change
- Bringing everyone together (including partners and stakeholders), aligning them to customer and organisational goals and moving them rapidly forward
- Helping the organisation change course when market forces demand (which they will)
- Building organisational culture, knowledge and capabilities
- Laying the foundations for greater levels of collaboration and innovation
- Providing the context for making and accepting business decisions, which will sometimes be difficult and/or hard to understand.
This is why corporate communication has a vital, and significantly expanded, role to play in this future of radical change.
It’s also why the fact that soft is the new hard is central to the future of corporate communication. Our ability to lead and support our people, customers and stakeholders on this journey will define our organisations’ – and our profession’s – success.
If you’d like to know more about how technology will change the communication profession – and what we can be doing about it now, why not attend the next IABC Victoria event – ‘The robots are coming’ on Wednesday 25th October, 6pm – 7.30pm.
P.S. What are the ‘soft skills’ that organisations are looking for?
In their 2017 Global CEO Survey, PwC, asked two very pertinent questions:
- “In addition to technical business expertise, how important are the following skills to CEOs’ organisations?”
- “How difficult do CEOs find it for their organisation to recruit people with the following skills or characteristics?”
The six most important responses, shown in the table below, provide an interesting insight into the skills most CEOs are looking for… and the difficulty they have finding people with those skills. As the chart shows, ‘problem-solving’ is regarded as the most important, while ‘creativity and innovation’ is regarded as the most difficult skill to find.
It’s particularly interesting to note that all six of these skills were seen as significantly more important than both digital and STEM skills.
[i] Bernard Salt, ‘The Next Five Years with Bernard Salt… Rise of Robojobs: The future world of work’, Sky News and KPMG, 27 February 2017, https://home.kpmg.com/au/en/home/insights/2017/02/bernard-salt-next-5-years-robojobs-future-work.html