Information Management Newsletters recently posted an article by Tony Hotko entitled "The Evolving Skill Set of the Information Worker." The article explains how industry trends and the ripple effects the global financial crisis are changing the skills requirements for knowledge workers. The focus, according to Mr. Hotko, is shifting from technical aptitude to adding value via business knowledge and soft skills.
The article emphasizes the importance of business savvy and soft skills like communication. While I agree with this sentiment, I question when and if this shift really occurred. Technical skills are of course important, but has there ever been a time where they were the only, or even the primary factor to consider? Business knowledge coupled with communication, listening and organization to me are timeless must-haves for all successful knowledge workers and crucially important for all technology consultants. If soft skills are more desired today than in years past, I would call it a return to fundamentals rather than a revolution.
The problem, however, is that it is always easier to focus on technical skills rather than soft skills. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, soft skills are harder to package, buy and sell. I don't know of any software that will turn a poorly written email or a boring presentation into clear, impactful message that moves a project forward. There are no vendors, no tools to sell, and no magic quadrants or maturity curves for soft skills. These talents are harder to pinpoint on a resume, but considered valuable enough that many companies use behavioral interviewing techniques to look for practical applications of communication, teamwork and leadership.
Additionally, soft skills are difficult to teach and measure. The PMP exam, for example, does not test communication, presentation or writing skills. These are as important in a project manager as the certification itself; people who possess them are more effective and in higher demand. Yet, it's difficult to pinpoint what exactly these traits are and how they are obtained. I do agree with the article here that MBA's may be a good choice, not for the piece of paper you receive upon graduation, but for the emphasis the degree (hopefully) places on reading, writing, synthesizing ideas, and honing communication skills.
The more I reflect on Mr. Hotko's article and the vast differences in how soft skills apply to my projects, the more I want to dig into this topic further. I hope to explore the crucial soft skills for technology consultants and to provide examples of both how I have sought to cultivate them and how they have impacted my career. Over the next couple of months, I will be writing a series of posts on what I consider the must-have soft skills for technology consultants. I am certainly a student and not an accomplished teacher in this area, but I think we can all benefit from more emphasis on these intangibles that often separate the good from the great.
What do you think about the "soft skills revolution" - is it something new or a return to fundamentals? Let me know -firstname.lastname@example.org