I wrote this title because people will likely read it – we love secrets to success, and if they are surprising, all the better. Depending on your beliefs and experience, this post may be neither. Either way, what am about to share will make a difference for you professionally and for the organization you serve.
This Washington Post article got me thinking about this topic. The article is about what Google has learned about the most important skills they need. The surprise, at least to Google, was that technical skills weren’t at the top of the list. To quote from the article (italics are mine):
In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
This is significant. One of the organizations that most relies on (and had until that point focused hiring on) the very best technical ability, says that those abilities are the 8th most important to their organizations success.
To put it another way, technical skills are the admission to the game, but winning takes far more than that.
Look at the rest of that list…
- Coaching skills
- Communicating and listening well.
- Possessing insights into others.
- Critical thinking and problem solving.
- Making connections across complex ideas.
The first four of those are 100% interpersonal and people skills; what the article calls the soft skills. And since businesses (even Google, the technical giant) are made up of people, it makes sense.
The Forest and the Trees
You’ve heard the metaphor of not being able to see the forest for the trees – this situation is informed perfectly by this metaphor. Our organizations want the technical skills, whatever they are: finance, engineering, marketing, operations – name the technical expertise that is important to your organization. These are the trees. We must have trees in order to have a forest, but the forest is more than individual trees, it is a living system with all of the trees working together symbiotically for mutual success.
Hiring only for technical competence focuses you on the trees; but your organization is a forest.
It is easier to hire for technical skill – many of these skills are testable, tangible, and resumes are filled with testaments to these skills. Easier – but not more effective.
It is harder to seek, suss out, and select for the softer skills, like but not inclusive of those on the list above. But if you want a successful, resilient organization, you must do the hard work of hiring for soft skills.
The Message For You Personally
I’ve taken an organizational focus so far, but let me make the point personally now. Organizational success is about people skills, so your personal success must rest on that foundation. You can be focused on building your technical or job skills – and while those are important (you need to stay abreast of changes in your field of expertise), they aren’t enough. Again, they simply buy you entrance to the game.
If you want to play the game at a higher level, you must build you interpersonal skills with the level of dedication and focus they deserve.
By now, you know the secret. The secret to success is being able to communicate with, interact with, collaborate with, and influence people. Time spent investing in learning, improving, and practicing those skills are the best investment you can make in your future success at work and in life.