Soft skills still drive success in an increasingly data-driven world

Rocky Subramanian, managing director, Midwest Region at SAP North America outlines why tech employees need to be fully rounded to achieve success


Data runs the modern enterprise – a trend we are only going to see grow exponentially. The digital economy is giving companies access to more information than ever before and simplifying the way businesses run. Yet still, companies must have the ability to make data actionable and translate it for better decision-making to make it valuable.

We can apply that same thinking to personnel – everyone from executive leadership down to individual contributors. In today's business environment, a strong degree or set of qualifications gets you in the door, but itis communication and other soft skills that form the backbone of effective leaders and teams. And that absolutely applies to everyone from executive leadership to sales staff, engineers and more.

The growing demand for tech skills shows no signs of slowing. Nationally, heading into 2019, the variety of roles will only continue to proliferate, with high demand for everything from cloud architects to DevOps engineers to business intelligence analysts. Looking at LinkedIn workforce data from this year, skills crucial to success in Chicago's growing tech sector like coding and web programming round out four of the top ten skills in demand for current job openings.

And yet, while proficiency in these areas might make a strong candidate, these skills must be accompanied by softer skills like effective communication, public speaking and presentation prowess, collaboration and problem-solving abilities. Startup founders know this well: strong pitching skills are essential to securing customers, funding and top talent. VCs and Angels invest in the potential of a team, not just the idea behind the startup and a team that works well together and communicates effectively is a better bet than one with just a strong resume.

Top talent stands out when combining tech and communication skills

The corporate world hires differently today. The interview process now focuses on a candidate's culture fit and their ability to articulate ideas and connect with customers and colleagues. And a lot of credence is given to the network an interviewee has built. Combining those things with solid tech skills is a sure-fire hit for an interview.

In my role at SAP I spend just as much time meeting with our employees as I do clients. I can speak first-hand to the importance of empathy in this role. I have learned the value of adopting a coaching style with teammates and direct reports, asking questions that let others think critically and identify solutions. For all of us in technology, prioritizing these interpersonal communication skills is just as important as hard technical and business skills in shaping how our company grows.

Visit Innovation Enterprise's Chief Strategy Officer Summit in San Francisco on May 7–8, 2019

A thriving business requires well-rounded employees

Strong communication and other soft skills not only benefit job seekers but are also imperative for making businesses operate more effectively. A 2017 study from Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan showed one company's addition of soft skills training in areas like communication and teamwork increased worker productivity and retention at a 250% return on investment. And it will become all that much more important to continually evolve communication practices and skills as technology, mobile devices in particular, introduces newer and unfamiliar means of interacting.

The evolution of business communication can either present new challenges to businesses or help break down siloes if managed actively and effectively. At SAP, we have different employee resource groups and encourage teammates to get to know each other outside of their specific work groups to break down siloes. When we know the challenges one team is facing sometimes the quickest and simplest solution lies in the expertise and knowledge of another. But, more importantly, understanding and communicating the work happening firm-wide makes everyone more engaged and more empowered to jump in to help each other.

What's more, one side effect of this exposure to new areas of our business has been a surge in employees trying out different careers within the company, something we as a company are fully supportive of. Some of our best leaders have rounded out their experience in roles they never thought they would find themselves in.

Visit DATAx Singapore on March 5–6, 2019

Those of us in the technology sector are fortunate to be working in an industry that is foundational for our nation's economic competitiveness. In order to maintain and improve upon that competitiveness we all need to commit to emphasizing the development of well-rounded skills among prospective employees and provide plenty of opportunities for existing employees to sharpen all of their skills. Only then will tech continue its trajectory of success for many years to come. 

How to encourage more interaction in a remote team small

Read next:

How to encourage more interaction in a remote team