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Ep 456: Soft Skills

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Work and jobs are changing, and the way companies select and hire people needs to keep up with this pace of change. We’ve always talked a lot about soft skills in talent acquisition, but what are they in the context of modern work, why are they important, and how can they be assessed?

My guest this week is Dr Alan Redman, Head of Science and Technology at Clevry. Alan is an expert in the definition, assessment and impact of soft skills and has some very valuable insights to share.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Perspectives on the market and changing world of work

• Understanding what employees want from work

• What are soft skills in the context of modern work, and why are they important?

• Adapting to change

• How soft skills hiring can solve recruiting challenges

• Skills portability and job design

• Being a soft skills focused organisation

• How to assess and measure soft skills

• The future impact of AI on skills and decision making

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Clevry (Ad) (0s):
Support for this podcast comes from Clevry the leading soft skills platform for matching and recruiting. Backed by 30 years of scientific research and assessment development, Clevry helps you to predict job performance and hire the right talent to build a winning team. Grow faster by focusing on what matters most “soft skills”. Visit www.clevry.com and Clevry spelled C-L-E- V-R-Y to discover how companies like British Gas as the mugs and Spencer hire better with Clevry and schedule your demo today.

Matt Alder (Intro) (58s):
Hi there, this is my older Welcome to Episode 456 of The Recruiting Future Podcast. Work is changing, jobs are changing, and the way companies select and hire people needs to keep up with this pace of change. We always talked a lot in talent acquisition about soft skills, but what actually are they in the context of modern work? Why are they important and how can they be assessed? My guest this week is Dr. Alan Redman, Head of Science and Technology at Clevry. Alan is an expert in the definition, assessment, and impact of soft skills and has some very valuable insights to share.

Matt Alder (1m 43s):
Hi, Alan, and welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Alan Redman (1m 46s):
Hi Matt. How are you?

Matt Alder (1m 48s):
I’m very good. Thank you. And it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Dr. Alan Redman (1m 56s):
Sure. Well, my name is Dr. Alan Redman. I’m a work in organizational psychologist. I’ve been working in the industry for around 25 years. At present I’m Head of Science and Technology with Clevry, which is a soft skills company on focusing on recruitments and done Business Psychology Consultancy.

Matt Alder (2m 20s):
Fantastic. Before we sort of move the conversation forward, tell us a little bit more about Clevry and the work that you do there.

Dr. Alan Redman (2m 28s):
Sure. Well, we are a kind of unique organization in the sense that it’s, whilst we have a traditional recruitment business that some got many years of track record. We also have a well-established business psychology arm as well. We’re really able to fuse those two areas together in a way which enables us to focus kind of on the whole business of people at work. It’s not just getting people into the organization, but getting the right person, and then managing, engaging, leading, developing that person wants to run in role.

Dr. Alan Redman (3m 8s):
And really what our focus is finding the right job for the right person. So we really are looking to understand where people are going to be happiest most motivated and getting the most from their own jobs.

Matt Alder (3m 22s):
Fantastic stuff. So it’s been almost three years of very, very disruptive times and constant change. I am recording this sort of at the end of August, I’m still not quite sure what’s going on in the job market in the world of work, it going to change every day. What’s your perspective on what has been going on? What’s going on in the market? What are you seeing in terms of the way that people work? The way that people recruit?

Dr. Alan Redman (3m 49s):
Yeah. I think you’re right when you say that it’s been a few years of almost constant change. You know, we used to think there was constant change before, but it really has accelerated certain themes in the workplace introduced new ones. It’s almost every month a new term gets on bailed. I think this month it’s quiet quitting.

Matt Alder (4m 15s):
Yes.

Dr. Alan Redman (4m 15s):
We’ve had great resignations. We’ve had Tang pink who lying flats in some regions. So, I think never been more challenging for employers, for leaders and managers to kind of keep on top. We’ve really what’s going on with people at work. I think there certainly seems to have been a rethink. And I think individuals at work have really kind of come through this really hard period, and maybe I guess are revisiting their relationship with their organizations, their employers, their values, what they want from work and really how they can, I guess, balance having a rewarding and enjoyable career versus I guess a life, you know, and a wider set of kind of interests, and experiences, and kind of rewards outside of the workplace.

Dr. Alan Redman (5m 20s):
I think it’s hard for employers, whether it’s in terms of recruitment, engagement, leadership, motivation development to grapple with those things.

Matt Alder (5m 31s):
Absolutely. And how has technology changing things in your opinion?

Dr. Alan Redman (5m 33s):
Well, I guess we’re seeing a bit of a pendulum swing at the moment. Remote working was forced really on all of us, all employers, and all individuals. Obviously some people have been doing that already, but for most of us, it was a new experience working from home. It’s amazing in hindsight how quickly organizations and people were able to adapt to the new ways of working and the technology was already there. So we’ve seen an acceleration of the pickup of that form of technology. I guess what we’re seeing now maybe is not the permanent change we anticipated.

Dr. Alan Redman (6m 13s):
So I think there was a lot of expectation during the early kind of success of working from home that it might stick that actually city centers would then stay empty, that people would then stay at home. We’re seeing some firms take a different line now. I think apple being the most recent one in the news, starting to wanting to strike a clearer, more structured balance around flexible working with expectations about a certain degree of being present in the organization. So I think where we’re getting to with technology as far as working patterns is concerned is that I think employers and individuals are grappling for that balance.

Dr. Alan Redman (6m 56s):
I guess, trying to find a sweet spot whereby they can harness the alternatives that technology makes available to us as people at work in a way that’s imbalances the meat of the individual, the needs of the employer, and also counters some of the potential adverse effects we see from a pure remote working model.

Matt Alder (7m 17s):
Talking a little bit more about soft skills. Te focus of Clevry is soft skills. What do you actually mean by soft skills?

Dr. Alan Redman (7m 28s):
Well, that’s a good question. And I think we’re very clear that we are using different meaning from the traditional one. And often soft skills certainly in my experience in kind of industrial environments is often used as a, in a pejorative way. It’s often meant to, we often refer to people’s skills. I think managers will complain about going on soft skills training. It is beautifully, the softer stuff, you know, kind of the less essential stuff, the frothy stuff compared to hard skills. And I’m kind of getting the job done with your knowledge, skills and kind of experience around done. Yeah, and the job itself.

Dr. Alan Redman (8m 9s):
So we really work with a broader definition that draws us on when it’s decades really of psychological research into the performance of people at work. So we’re looking, and we’re interested as psychologists in all of the unique individual qualities and attributes that some people bring as individuals to work. So we would describe soft skills as encompassing personalities. That’s your style, that’s how you like to do your work, the cognitive ability and styles you bring to bear when you’re overcoming problems, decisions, making judgements and so on.

Dr. Alan Redman (8m 52s):
So you’re thinking soft skills. Plus all of the drive and motivation and kind of values that something needs to match the job you’re in. So we’ve used soft skills as the whole individual. And I guess our focus is understanding that, understanding the job in relation to people’s soft skills and making that match accordingly. So they’re very distinct from hard skills and hard skills that are more traditional way, I guess of thinking about people in relation to work, because I guess those are the things which are trained or learned or educated that perhaps, yeah, are less distinctive about us as individuals.

Matt Alder (9m 34s):
So we were just talking about how work is changing, and what work might be like in the future. How important soft skills in terms of the future of work?

Dr. Alan Redman (9m 47s):
Well, obviously they’ve always been important, but was recognized, but always important. And we know that really the differences in performance between people doing the same job can always be explained by differences in their soft skills. Changes to the way of working are accelerating their importance. They’re becoming much more critical to the performance of people, and teams, and organizations. And that’s partly because jobs themselves are evolving and changing. Where I guess the hard skills are less critical to performance in most roles, certainly in a knowledge and economy.

Dr. Alan Redman (10m 28s):
They’re becoming more important because jobs and organizations themselves change more quickly. And it’s your soft skills that enable you to adapt to those changes, to be able to work flexibly, to may maybe be able to come and change your kind of hard skill set, your way of working to respond to new challenges. And yeah, I guess we’re also seeing more and more as jobs are changing in nature, it’s the soft skills which are becoming even stronger in terms of predicting performance at work. So there are pretty much going to be the growth way of understanding and how people can perform and how organizations can harness that performance.

Matt Alder (11m 17s):
And what challenges does this present for organizations?

Dr. Alan Redman (11m 23s):
I think it’s almost that kind of illustrates the difference between those traditional organizations who are perhaps clinging to a model which no longer exists, certainly a pre-COVID one where you employ people based on hard skills. You use assessment methods, which look at hard skills like CV, or very kind of traditional interview. And those are more contemporary for the organizations who have embraced the changes we’ve seen and are ready to do things differently. So I think for soft skills organizations, they will find it easier to become challenges in hiring recruitment and assessment.

Dr. Alan Redman (12m 10s):
So, how do you identify the right person for the role, if you can’t rely on traditional methods? They will be smarter at some job design. So really thinking about how jobs can be crafted to work for the individual, certainly the top performing individuals. And how to really embed the relationship between those top performers and your organizations with people really want to work for you. I think soft skills organizations will overcome the challenge of career development, career paths. So how do you develop people if the focus and it’s not hard skills, if hard skills are not the way to grow in a role in an organization and that soft skills instead?

Dr. Alan Redman (12m 57s):
And how do you move in deep processes away from hard skills to soft skills? And how do you grapple with soft skills, making individuals more portable? In other words, if you’re a strong soft skills individual, it’s easier for you to find work elsewhere. You are more attractive to other employers. You are going to be able to work flexibly across jobs. So I think that’s could be a challenge for those organizations who don’t recognize and nurture the value of soft skills.

Matt Alder (13m 39s):
What challenges does this present for an organization?

Dr. Alan Redman (13m 46s):
Well, there’s a whole range of challenges across the employee journey really right from initial recruitment through to I guess performing, promotion, and staying with the organization. And the nature of all of those challenges really pulls on the extent to which the employer is cleaning to traditional ways of dealing with people at work versus I guess the soft skills approach that’s going to become critical over the next few years. So early challenge for example, would be around hiring and recruitment. So how do you assess people against their soft skills?

Dr. Alan Redman (14m 27s):
How do you understand what they can then bring to the role? You can’t rely on traditional methods like CV or come straight forward interview to do that. There’s a challenge around the design of jobs themselves. So in order to, I guess, keep hold of the workers with the core soft skills strengths you need, really, you’ve got to, I guess, focus very strongly on the psychological contract you have with them. That means the job’s got to be right for them. And job design can no longer just be one size fits all. You got to think about how jobs could be crafted to really reflect the kind of bespoke individual soft skills that a person is bringing along.

Dr. Alan Redman (15m 15s):
That can also mean looking at the way career paths and L&D processes are organized within your business. So they can no longer favor kind of hard skills. They can no longer, I guess, just be based a very kind of hierarchical structure to the organization because it’s got to be a bit more fluidity and that my soft skills focus, of course. And I guess the final challenge we’ve seen this and things like the great resignation quite quitting, some of these other kind of employee engagement issues we’ve seen are around the fact that soft skills themselves are very portable.

Dr. Alan Redman (15m 56s):
So it’s much easier for a individual with soft skills strengths to go elsewhere because the soft skills they got make them very flexible, and make them very attractive to employers and make it much easier to move between roles. Certainly much easier than I guess, a more traditional picture where it was some hard skills, which were the focus.

Matt Alder (16m 16s):
So I’m sure lots of people who are listening would be interested in your perspective about how you actually assess and measure soft skills. You sorta mentioned the, the issues with the sort of the more traditional ways of recruiting. How does your organization measure and assess soft skills?

Dr. Alan Redman (16m 35s):
Well, I guess we recognize the value of CVs and kind of traditional interviews in terms of starting a conversation. So I think a CV is something that I guess candidates feel comfortable about providing and employers are kind of interested to look at, and it kind of gives some basic information about the biography, what they’ve done, where they’ve come from. But really those should just be regarded as the start of the conversation. If you want to understand the soft skills that have driven all of the experience that’s described in the CV, if you want to understand the soft skills that the individuals can bring to work, you need to use more structured assessments.

Dr. Alan Redman (17m 19s):
And really what these do is enhance the hiring decisions that you’re making. It’s not making them more difficult. It’s making them the, I guess, range of information you’ve got about the soft skills more empowering in terms of the quality of hires that you make. But it does mean using more structured techniques, such as psychometrics to look at soft skills strengths around interpersonal style, thinking style, using assessments to look at the values and culture fits that the individual is bringing along to see if those dovetail nicely with the kind of values and culture of the organization.

Dr. Alan Redman (18m 5s):
You need to use some structured assessments to understand the motivations of the individual, to make sure that the role itself is going to be one which will challenge, reward, kind of an engaged individual and whether any kind of job quality might be necessary to really make, I guess, the job and work for that person’s motivations, they will stick around. So it means using things like personality questionnaires, situational judgment tests of cognitive ability tests to get around it overall view of the individual.

Dr. Alan Redman (18m 44s):
And I guess the good news for employers is that candidates in general had expectations around recruitment processes now, and will favor organizations who seem to have a structured process that go beyond just the CV and just the interview of a manager. So I if employers really wants to attract the best people, they do need to have an assessment process, which meets those expectations.

Matt Alder (19m 11s):
So final question, and again, looking out into the future. So that we know that more and more organizations are using AI and kind of all aspects of their business, will the move towards AI in business, well that reduced the need for soft skills?

Dr. Alan Redman (19m 30s):
Well, I’m not sure the extent to which more organizations are using AI, but I think more organizations are certainly being marketed about some AI. And I think there’s perhaps an anxiety around them within businesses around them, what they should be doing, whether this is the next big thing. And I guess there’s some misapprehensions about AI perhaps in that marketing sometimes. In the end, AI is not the same as intelligence or consciousness. We aren’t developing clever machines. What we are doing is getting better and better at developing machine learning algorithms, which can stimulate and automate some behaviors and decisions.

Dr. Alan Redman (20m 16s):
So there are certainly some roles and some jobs. And it tends to be the hard skills ones, which can be automated, and you can kind of train a machine based on lots of data to kind of repeat, what’s happened before. What AI doesn’t offer is a capacity for flexibility. So you just can’t respond to situations outside those included in those machine learned responses in the way a human can. In other words, it doesn’t have soft skills. It can’t manage challenge.

Dr. Alan Redman (20m 56s):
It can’t respond effectively to stuff outside the context of what it’s learned. However, there is benefit to taking maybe some of the more boring routine stuff out of jobs and automating it with machine learning. And I guess really drawing on humans who are rich in soft skills to work alongside the automation in a kind of co-working relationship to really, I guess, drive performance for the organization. So, I don’t feel think for a moment that AI will reduce the need for soft skills work. If anything, it will increase the requirement because yeah, we can take a lot of the routine, hard skills stuff and out of jobs really that’s leaves the kind of sweet soft skills stuff for humans to do.

Dr. Alan Redman (21m 48s):
And that’s actually the bit we, I guess, in the end, find rewarding, motivating, and enjoyable.

Matt Alder (21m 56s):
Alan, thank you very much for talking to me.

Dr. Alan Redman (22m 1s):
My pleasure. Thank you, Matt.

Matt Alder (22m 4s):
My thanks to Alan. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at RecruitingFuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show.

Matt Alder (22m 56s):
Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time, and I hope you’ll join me.

Chad and Cheese (22m 31s):
Do you love news about LinkedIn, Indeed, Google and just about every other recruitment tech company out there? Hell yeah. I’m Chad. I’m Cheese. We’re the Chad and Cheese Podcast. All the latest recruiting news and insights are on our show. Dripping in snark and attitude. Subscribe today wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Chad and Cheese (23m 12s):
We out.

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