We are working in the age of transcendence where the emphasis on physical products, customer service and hierarchical structure is shifting to meta-physical experiences, digital services, eco-systems and networked multi disciplined teams. It must therefore follow that employee engagement must shift to employee experience (EX) with an emphasis on self-transcendence rather than self-actualization. The challenges range from structure and culture to leadership and performance with the Internet of Things (I.O.T) having to include the Internet of People (I.O.P).
A primary challenge is what I am calling the disconnect effect, between the needs we have as human beings and the work arrangements that do not fulfill them. In other words, the importance of the workplace and the way we are made to feel within it, has a critical impact on how fulfilled and healthy we are.
It is about the Meaning of work in our life and importance of life at our work.
But are wellness programs, career learning, talent and HR digital platforms really being designed with employees primary need in mind and are they asking what corporate caring really means to the employee experience? Do you ever wonder what our primary need is? Power, money, prestige, companionship, love, loyalty? I suggest none of these.
Were under siege from the pressures of modern working life, overwhelmed by operational tasks, resulting in an unheard cry for meaning, falling largely on deaf corporate ears. This search for meaning can be frustrating, stressful and destructive, manifesting itself in a lack of engagement due to time pressure and prioritization, high attrition, poor retention and an increasing emphasis on the need for mental health and well being to fill the void, or sense of meaninglessness in the work. And that’s before we get home late, exhausted and disconnected from our families. Better diet, CSR, philanthropic activities and employee assist programs are trying hard but missing the essence.
Alternatively, caring companies are showing that engaged employee experiences are twice as likely to say their work environment positively affects their health and well being, showing there is less poor health and stress, higher morale and engagement and more satisfying, interesting and exciting work carried out.
There is no doubt that the state of our immune system depends on our emotional state, but also that our emotional state depends on our motivation. Caring companies that recognize this search for meaning, try and assist in the discovery of meaning through generationally relevant health and well being orientated efforts, gain from higher productivity, greater levels of motivation and engagement resulting in higher retention and reduced attrition, because why would you not want to stay in a company that cares about you as a person.
Companies are investing in the physical and mental dimensions, as mentioned above but are they getting results? The employee engagement stats are not moving in the right direction, but if were honest, can we really put our finger on what engagement is? Are we investing in the right dimensions or does the fear of the immaterial, intangible one, therefore the non- measurable, keep us transfixed on the quantitative rather than the qualitative? After all, the management mantra of what gets measured gets done is an age old craving for certainty and certainty makes us feel safer, more secure and therefore less afraid of the reality. But is this working for people or is the search for meaning still largely unfulfilled?
Can soft skills help in this search for meaning and if so, who needs them, why and what do they consist of?
Firstly, I would suggest ‘where’ they exist is more important than ‘what’ they are, so that we can choose to gain access to them, or not. They are largely intuitive, ranging in capacity from being conscientious, dependable and collaborative to understanding ‘how’ to communicate, how to ‘attend’ to others. The manner not the means of communication, how to humanely lead, personally motivate and be ‘civil’ from a human to human perspective. This is critical for our decision making in order to enable our decision making process go beyond the urgent, important information and buy in requirements.
Regarding the ‘where’ and the qualitative not quantitative potential, I can offer organizations an approach that makes use of the geometrical concept of dimensions as an analogy for qualitative differences which do not destroy the unity of a structure to show where they reside and more significantly, how any organizational culture is compatible with the natural and necessary contradictions that must happen between divisional and functional departments in the lower dimensions of the hierarchy or evolving horizontal structures.
Discovering and learning soft skills is challenging but leads to further insight and enlightenment in self awareness, affectionate communication & relationship building, caring operational skills, supportive strategy skills and noble business results.
Soft skills are also considered personal attributes that help people to interact socially and effectively in the workplace, such as leadership by understanding rather than fear and working in value based multi disciplined teams. Empathy, care, integrity, sociability and respect result from maturing and learning that it’s actually all about human, personal understanding.
Of these, self awareness allows you to gain insights in to how your assumptions, values and beliefs, may impact your attitude, actions and behavior, along with your judgement, which effects how you get the results you want from individuals or a group, as conclusions are derived from assumptions.
As you will also be impacting the organization, your ability to be successful at higher levels on the leadership soft skills ladder, may be hindered by those conclusions and resulting decisions.
EQ or Emotional intelligence doesn’t go far enough as it suggests a range of skills that are largely embodied, so as Dreyfus and Dreyfus say in their book mind over Machine ‘an experts skill has become so much a part of him that he need be no more aware of it than he is of his own body’, this may well become a challenge to those who think we are simply psychological copying machines.
Humans are multi dimensional beings seeking empathic identification before choosing to imitate as ‘we become who we are by imitating the models of people we admire or respect’ (Iain McGilchrist). We are not copying machines although we do copy and can replicate with great skill and affect.
Deming says “Human interaction requires a capacity that psychologists call “theory of mind” – the ability to attribute mental states to others based on their behavior, or more colloquially to “put oneself into another’s shoes” (Premack and Woodruff 1978, Baron-Cohen 2000, Camerer et al. 2005). Progress in automating social interaction is best exemplified by the continued failure of the Turing test, which measures a machine’s ability to imitate human conversation for five minutes in a highly controlled setting. Based on poor performance in the Turing test and the inability of computers to even recognize (much less replicate) human emotion, Frey and Osborne (2013) identify social intelligence tasks as a key bottleneck to computerization”.
But as all people need meaning in their lives ‘and are prepared to sacrifice a great deal for an organization that can give their lives meaning’ (Michael Maccoby) they want greater responsibility for their own development, their own search for this meaning and for the success of their organization.
It is the responsibility of leaders today, to search for this further development, not only for themselves but for their direct reports and in direct reports such as borrowed resources. This means human to human development in soft skill learning programs for tasks, people and change related management efforts, must become, less about designing fixed training programs for established job duties and more about strategies designed to develop expertise for specific persons in their particular environment or unique situations accross the company, within an organization that knows how to support this search for meaning, through experiences that are self discovered.
Let’s explore some of these points in the following areas: