Shereen Daniels reminds us of the importance of ‘soft skills’ in a world of hard machinery.
In the modern workplace, shiny new technology can do many tasks more easily, quickly and effectively than any human being. Yet we need to be mindful of placing so much emphasis on embedding and monitoring machines that we lose our focus on people – and what keeps them connected to their organisations, to each other and to customers.
Human connection has been proven to add immense value to our lives. That sense of belonging to a group, a team, an organisation, is a key part of inspiring us to do our best. Our shared experiences, good and bad, help bind us together and make us feel that we belong; belonging is about a great deal more than fitting in.
As our organisations climb frantically aboard the tech- and data-insight train, senior people in HR must influence the direction of travel, making explicit the importance of human connections: placing too much emphasis on the opportunities of technology and too little on the potential of people will erode trust and confidence over time.
This involves enhancing our people’s ‘soft skills’ – from empathy and collaborative working to creative thinking and curiosity – and instilling these within the values of our organisations. It also means upskilling or reskilling our people to take on more interesting tasks as automation mops up the routine activities, and giving workers greater autonomy over the management of their workload (when, where and how they do it). Being trusted to do a great job inspires high performance.
What else can we do to foster and amplify human connectedness? My advice is to go back to basics, revisiting the engagement levers that make a difference to how people feel about their role and organisation. Evaluate how values live and breathe within your business. Do you manage behaviour according to those values or make exceptions where it suits you to do so? It’s the exceptions that will stick in the minds of your employees.
Listen to people regularly and often. I would hope we’ve moved beyond the annual cycle of engagement surveys and performance reviews, to ongoing, real-time dialogue with employees, via a mix of progressive technology and good, old-fashioned conversation.
From day one, give people opportunities to have a voice, to grow, to feel that their work matters. Treat them as you do your valued customers and reap the rewards.
Shereen Daniels is an HR director and strategic adviser.