The Human Element
“Every Business is a Data Business”. This is the title of an article posted earlier this year that highlights the essential importance of data collection, data measurement and data integration for any and every business, regardless of industry. The argument really finds its roots in the old adage, “What gets measured, gets done”, essentially, measurement helps us to accomplish and improve.
This makes sense if we examine trends in our global business landscape. We see data and technology playing a larger part than ever before in transforming hiring, communication, job roles, work spaces, business culture and relationships. We can collect key customer data points, measure key performance indicators, make projections, and track results in real time. In many ways, these trends seem to impact and increase our speed, efficiency, productivity and flexibility.
What’s tricky is that these changes have also made our lives a lot more complex and unpredictable. In many ways, the world is changing too fast for experts, and data, to keep up. The other day, my financial advisor and I were discussing how the rise of social media and access to information has completely altered the way that financial and economic professionals are able to predict changes or forecast patterns in the market. The almost instantaneous ways that trends are generated and scandals are shared is wildly unpredictable and also extremely catalytic. This change has happened so quickly that no theory or model has been developed that can actually help professionals navigate this new landscape or that can be taught to students just entering the industry. Our systems are becoming more complex, but now we have less certainty.
Margaret Heffernan, an established executive, author, and speaker, recently presented at the TedSummit on this exact conundrum. She strongly cautions against the reliance on “efficiency” as a guiding principle in today’s unpredictable world:
“The more time doctors spend staring at digital medical records, the less time they spend looking at their patients. The more we use parenting apps, the less we know our kids. The more time we spend with people that we’re predicted and programmed to like, the less we can connect with people who are different from ourselves…What all of these technologies attempt to do is to force-fit a standardized model of a predictable reality onto a world that is infinitely surprising. What gets left out? Anything that can’t be measured — which is just about everything that counts”
Instead, she provides anecdotal examples of when “messy, human skills” have drastically improved organizational outcomes. She identifies some of these skills as preparedness, imagination, stamina, exploration, bravery, and humility. Skills that can’t be measured and that she says are by no means efficient, but that give us the power to adapt and “make any future we choose”. There are some other skills that I’d like to posit as being critical for our future success as individuals and organizations:
- Emotional Intelligence: I think the huge focus on emotional intelligence tends to be on “empathy” or the ability to share the feelings of others. While I think that this is important, it is also not the only component of emotional intelligence. We need to be able to demonstrate other emotional capabilities as well, such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and vulnerability. These qualities help us to connect and care for each other, to make critical decisions, and communicate effectively through instability or conflict.
- Mobilization: The ability to mobilize people to achieve is a skill that requires understanding, influence, diplomacy, and the ability to inspire and motivate. We tend to attribute this skill set to people who are outgoing or charismatic, but there are as many ways to mobilize others as there actually are people to mobilize. It is very much founded in our ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships between people and around a purpose, and that will look different for everyone and every group.
- Learnability: We have to be willing and eager to learn in order to solve new, emergent, and unpredictable challenges. Often what we think we know can quickly become irrelevant, and if we become too attached to this knowledge we limit our abilities to adapt or grow. Learnability is all about maximizing lifelong learning opportunities and getting comfortable with the phrase, “I don’t know, yet”.
- Optimism: While we may often think of optimism as more of a mindset than a skill set, there are actually many studies within the field of positive psychology that suggest that optimism is a skill that can be learned. Optimism helps us to seek opportunities, to accomplish goals, and to be resilient in the face of challenges or hardship.
- Leadership: Now this might seem a little obvious given the platform I am writing this from, but I would still like to argue for it. While we used to believe that great leaders were simply born with innate leadership qualities, we now know that these things can be developed in people. Leadership is no longer just knowing how to command a formal position, it is much more about knowing how to work better together with your group to serve your purpose. To have “leadership skills” actually encompasses many other soft skills, like conflict management or delegation, that are crucial to decision-making, problem-solving, and teamwork.
While it may seem that every business is a “data business”, I think at their core every business is really a human business. Technology provides us with so many incredibly useful insights, resources, and tools, but we can’t become lazy or negligent in their application. If we over rely on technology, we risk losing the very human element that propels progress. Technology is only becoming more advanced and influential, let’s continue to develop the skills that will help us to use technology intelligently and responsibility for the betterment of our humanity.
The World Economic Forum also produced a list of the skills they believe we will need to thrive in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”:
Interestingly enough, there is a good amount of similarity in the skills that these experts believe will be important to our success in the future. Take the time to assess the members of your team and their aptitudes in each of these areas. You can facilitate this conversation as a personal reflection, a 360 assessment, or a team discussion. Questions to consider might include:
- How would you define each of these terms above?
- How do you see them as being important or not important to your particular role?
- Which of these qualities do you believe are some of your strengths? Why?
- Which of these qualities do you believe you need to develop? Why?
- What would these skills help you to do? What would these skills help your team to do?
The important thing to note is that these conversations should not be used as measures of performance, instead use this information as an opportunity to create learning and development opportunities for your team. If, based on your assessment, your group seems to be struggling with creativity, then work to provide training, resources, activities, or opportunities that will promote and encourage creativity in their roles and in the workplace. Continuing to develop the soft skills of our team is just as important as keeping them up to date with hard and technical skills and knowledge, prioritize these things and our organizations and teammates can continue to grow and thrive in an ever changing global landscape.
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is the Program Coordinator for Leadership Inspirations and spends most of her time helping to create meaningful programming and content. She got her start in leadership as a high school DECA student, and went on to graduate from Chapman University with degrees in Business Management and Integrated Education. As a regular contributor to From the Balcony, her favorite topics to explore are personality theory, group development, and conflict management. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and listening to podcasts.