February 27, 2019
Technology is fundamentally changing the nature of the workplace as well as the skills required for many roles, and new concepts such as machine learning and digital transformation are making their way into nearly every career. While most of us are under tremendous pressure to continually integrate new technologies into our routines, research actually shows a trend in the opposite direction. Increasingly, the most critical skills tend to be those that are unique to human beings.
For example, The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report notes that things like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and leadership ability are likely to grow in importance between now and 2022. However, many companies (49% of them, according to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report) may not be adequately preparing to meet the demand for these skills and traits.
The "best of the best" are already demonstrating many of these characteristics. When my team examined relationships between the California Psychological Inventory 260 instrument (Disclosure: My company publishes this assessment) and 360-degree ratings of performance for a sample of leaders, we found that several of these human-only characteristics hypothesized to be important to future performance were also predictive of current performance.
However, even when armed with the knowledge of which characteristics are likely to be most critical, organizations need to be strategic in how they go about shaping their workforce. Specifically, should they select employees on the basis of these characteristics, or focus on developing them once they have been hired?
There are two major factors to consider in making this decision. First, if the characteristic is important from the moment someone starts the job, it makes sense to select for it. Alternatively, if the characteristic isn’t critically important at the outset, then you should move on to consider the malleability of the behaviors associated with this trait. If the trait is manifested in concrete, observable behaviors that can be efficiently developed “on the job” or through formal training interventions, then such traits should be the focus of development efforts.
Clearly, this distinction isn’t an either/or proposition, and organizations may benefit from focusing both selection and development efforts on specific characteristics. Nonetheless, careful consideration of where to focus limited HR and learning-and-development resources is critical to maximizing performance in the workforce of the future.
Leadership Traits To Select For When Hiring
Economic strategists have made it abundantly clear that fast-paced change will be the name of the game in the future. Unfortunately, research from McKinsey suggests that the success of change management programs is meager, with 70% of such programs failing to meet their goals.
This is why flexibility is a trait that is important at the time of hire. Think of it as a necessary, albeit insufficient, precondition for successful change management, and a critically important characteristic in dynamic and fast-paced work environments.
Next, there's creativity, which is a complex psychological construct consisting of both personality and cognitive components. While many organizations would benefit greatly from being able to actively develop a creative workforce, research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that effective training programs are time- and resource-intensive, so this may be one trait that you should hire or select for rather than develop.
While flexibility and creativity may be important prerequisites for success in the future work environment, there will still be work that needs to get done. This is where responsibility comes into play. It is closely aligned with the commonly assessed characteristic of conscientiousness, which according to a study published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment has been demonstrated to be a strong predictor of overall performance across a range of jobs. Thus, focusing on this characteristic at hire can have immediate implications for performance.
Traits To Develop On The Job
One study (purchase required) from the Institute of Work Psychology and the University of Sheffield suggests that social skills are particularly amenable to development. This is primarily because the behaviors that guide our social interactions are easily observed and can be modified and practiced in everyday interactions.
For instance, according to The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, the related characteristics of amicability and empathy manifest themselves (positively) through behaviors such as active listening, focusing complete attention on one’s audience, and conveying an open body language.
Finally, tolerance is an increasingly important characteristic in today’s (and tomorrow’s) diverse workforce, with diversity and inclusion initiatives becoming increasingly pervasive. Clearly, tolerance of differences is an important component of an inclusive culture, and the positive behaviors associated with this trait are concrete and observable.
Sherrie Haynie, Director of US Professional Services for The Myers-Briggs Company, leads Practitioner Development and Consulting Services.