Skills CIOs will hire for in 2019

Soft skills are critical. And with the right approach, they can be codified, taught and transferred within your organization with the staff you already have.

Skills CIOs will hire for in 2019
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The skill gap is growing fast. Seventy-five percent of organizations are going to experience visible, risky business disruptions thanks to skill gaps by 2020, says Gartner. That’s an increase of 20 percent from just two years ago.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are creating obvious gaps in hard technical skills, but companies are experiencing an even bigger problem with soft skills. CapGemini and LinkedIn recently produced a report on the state of digital talent. More employers believed their teams were missing soft skills, such as adaptability (59 percdent) than hard skills like data science (51 percent). fact-checked these claims, among others, with IT recruiters in an October feature called, “IT skill gap: Fact v. fiction.” Among the facts IT recruiters agreed on: soft skills are in demand and investing in employees can close the skill gap.

I couldn’t agree more. In recent conversations with CIOs from Seattle to Pittsburgh, I’ve repeatedly heard about gaps in soft skills—particularly collaboration and communication—that are slowing down projects, especially the sort of agile, digital transformation projects that CIOs are prioritizing today.

This may come as a surprise, but in two decades advising CIOs on how to transfer technical knowledge between workers, I’ve seen soft skills transferred just as successfully as coding or data analysis. Soft skills aren’t magic. And, just like technical skills, they can be learned from peers.

Yes! You Can Teach Communication Skills

Communication skills may seem a lot more abstract than programming or project management, but they're actually very tangible. Employees at your company can do communication “the right way” in the same way they can perfect harder skills.

One national insurance company worked to close the communications skills gap by first identifying an internal expert—someone whom everyone already thought of as a great communicator. Paul was empathetic and a good listener. He was clear and encouraging, but he didn’t pander. He integrated feedback and brought the best out of his team members. All of that still sounded pretty “soft,” so the company documented everything Paul actually did—the way he ran meetings (for example, he always sent an agenda the day before), how he presented ideas (when and to whom), how he presented negative feedback (never in front of the team), how he presented positive feedback (often publicly), and so forth.

You get the idea. Good communications skills, such as sending out a meeting agenda, aren't abstract. By identifying your communications experts, documenting the specifics of how they personify communications leadership in your organization, and beginning to teach those tangible skills to others, you’ll fill this skills gap and build an overall culture where good communicating matters. And, if no one on the team presents as a good communicator, then you know you’d better look outside for help on the topic.

Sharing the 'Big Picture' improves collaboration

Improving collaboration is often about fixing alignment. And in most companies, alignment is out of whack thanks to overloaded teams, lack of role clarity, and even experts battling it out over conflicting styles and ideas.

There's a powerful leadership tool for achieving alignment that I call, the “Big Picture.” The Big Picture shows staff their value and purpose in the company. It galvanizes workers around the company’s priorities.

Sharing the Big Picture with your staff may seem obvious, but it’s easily overlooked. In Deloitte’s 2017 report Global Human Capital Trends, only 24 percent of employees felt their company did an excellent job aligning the employee’s personal goals with corporate purpose.

Last year, I had lunch with a small group employees at a national retailer’s headquarters. Over sandwiches I asked three questions:

  1. Who are your customers (in priority order) and what do they want?
  2. Who are your competitors and why are they a threat?
  3. What are three things your team is doing to support the company’s business strategy?

No one at the table could agree. One frustrated worker said, “I have no idea! And, I’ll bet no one else does either.” Leadership hadn’t made their strategy clear down to the front line, and it was measurably clear because they didn’t have answers to these seemingly simple questions.

The employees I was eating with couldn't see the important part they played on their own teams or in tandem with other teams. Without a clear picture of their place in the big picture, how could they make great decisions and collaborate with others? And, more to the point, why would they bother?

Soft skills—like communication and collaboration—are the bedrock of any high-performing team. With the right approach these critical skills can be codified, taught and transferred within your organization with the staff you already have.