The 5 Future Workplace Skills Everyone Needs

Top leaders must have different capabilities than even just a few years ago to be successful in today’s business environment. Korn Ferry asked C-suite executives to list the top skills needed for the future. Here’s what they said—and how to strengthen these skills in your teams.

December 18, 2023 – While people in the workforce have a wide range of unique technical abilities and behavioral competencies that can help them be successful in various roles, certain workplace skills may prove more valuable than others. A finance team member may never need coding skills, and a developer may never need financial modeling expertise. However, a new report from Korn Ferry explains that both these individuals will excel in their roles if they’re skilled communicators and collaborators.

“As the pace of change accelerates, leaders increasingly recognize that people need ‘baseline skills’ to maximize their impact in a complex, interconnected world,” the study said. So which skills matter most? Korn Ferry asked C-suite executives to share their take on top five skills for the future. Here’s what they said—and how your organization can help develop your people to have the right skills for success.

1. Adaptability.

Roles, teams and organizations are evolving faster than ever. As organizations prioritize agility, the Korn Kerry report notes that they’re pivoting and revising strategies faster. “Adaptability—the ability to embrace these changes and make the most of them—is critical for long-term success,” the firm said. “It’s also at the heart of successful leadership and innovation.”

“An adaptable leader can meet new challenges as they arise and not be halted by sudden change, remaining comfortable with uncertainty,” said Daniel Goleman, contributor, Korn Ferry Institute. “Being adaptable means you’re less emotionally triggered by unexpected events. When a problem arises, you don’t dwell on how difficult it is, but rather quickly shift to search for solutions—communicating with your team about next steps and creating a strategy for action.”

For example, Korn Ferry points to today’s work landscape includes tools built with generative AI and machine learning. “Individuals with a strong ability to adapt don’t feel threatened by these tools,” the report said. “Instead, they embrace the possibilities that come with them and stay focused on what matters most—driving business success.”

2. Collaboration.

Collaboration is the ability to embrace a “We before I” mindset, setting aside an individual agenda and working together as a team to explore what’s possible, according to Korn Ferry. The firm explains that effective collaboration leads to more innovation, better communication and smarter decision-making. It also plays an important role in culture building.

“Team collaboration is one of the biggest drivers for culture setting, culture shaping and culture building. It’s in teams and in the context of ‘real work’ that we test our values, assumptions and perception of norms,” said Sarah Jensen Clayton, senior client partner, Korn Ferry Culture & Change.

Related: 5 Communication Skills Found in Top Leaders

As how we work continues to evolve, how we collaborate is changing, too. In highly matrixed organizations, the Korn Ferry report notes that collaboration is an opportunity to enhance one’s personal brand and build trust with coworkers. “Whether teams connect in person or remotely, people are more effective collaborators when there’s a sense of psychological safety,” the search firm said. “Strong collaborators help facilitate this psychological safety, helping their team feel comfortable experimenting and being creative. Collaborators embrace experimentation and continually ask, how can we be better?”

3. Communication.

Communication takes many forms, and having employees fluent in multiple communication avenues benefits an organization, according to the Korn Ferry report. “While being a strong writer or speaker is one component, successful communicators are also adept at clearly articulating a point of view and tailoring this message for their intended audience to maximize impact,” it said. “Communication increasingly happens in real-time in the flow of work. Conversations are carried out over multiple mediums simultaneously: across Teams or Slack, in the comments section of a shared document, over email and even through impromptu in-person meetings. A company leader may present to external stakeholders, share news of an internal structure change across teams, and then turn around and ideate with other executives on a critical analysis.”

A Look at Today’s Most in Demand Executive Skills
In this post-Covid era, are there hiring trends or executive skills that are more prevalent and in demand? “As an executive recruiter focused largely on the private equity markets in B2B tech, we’re experiencing two distinct – but overlapping – macro trends in leadership hiring,” said Jon Landau, partner at SPMB, in a recent report. “The first was the hiring frenzy that occurred during the two-plus years immediately following Covid. The intense pace of hiring that occurred from roughly April 2020 to June 2022 was like nothing I’ve seen in my 25 years of recruiting.”

Amid the challenges of operating through a complex business and regulatory environment, Korn Ferry says that organizations are also strengthening their own communications teams to further a clear and compelling narrative about the company’s future. The chief communications officer role continues to grow with a broad purview over corporate communications, media relations, crisis management, and social and digital media, the search firm said.

4. Critical Thinking.

In business, the Korn Ferry report explains that there are five types of critical thinking: strategic, tactical, analytical, innovative and implicative (a decision-making approach that compares multiple outcome paths). “The best performers seamlessly switch between these different elements as they advance throughout their careers,” the report said. “They’re the ones who both see the dots and connect them in a meaningful way.”

“Where others see data points, critical thinkers find the insight that matters for individuals and organizations to reach their potential,” said David Ellis, senior client partner, VP of global talent acquisition transformation. “In the face of growing complexity and increasing data inputs, strong critical thinkers draw on abilities like digital savviness to look through the chaos and chart a path forward, deftly managing risk and stakeholder expectations.”

Related: Essential Leadership Skills For A “Work Anywhere Anytime” World

As organizations seek to transform for growth, critical thinking plays a vital role in everything from organizational design—unifying capabilities, structure and strategy—to people and performance. Korn Ferry says that it’s the secret sauce that finds connections and drives impactful change.

5. Empathy.

Empathy is the ability to sense others’ feelings and how they view things. Empathetic leaders successfully connect with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences because they understand their communication preferences and can approach each situation uniquely, according to the Korn Ferry report. “They display genuine concern for others, interacting with people in a way that leaves them feeling understood, valued and motivated,” the report says. “The modern working world is complex, filled with competing personal and professional priorities. From how meetings are scheduled to how you engage and inspire teams, an empathetic leader thinks of their team members as whole people.”

“With the rise of generative AI, empathy is taking on even greater importance,” said David Marzo, global vice president, solution design. “For some people, there’s a fear that AI could take away their job, threaten their livelihood and undermine their ability to care for their family. Empathetic leaders will be sensitive to these concerns and de-mystify potential impacts, helping them see their place on the team.”

Developing the Right Workplace Skills for Success

Knowing the top workplace skills is one thing. However, Korn Ferry explains that understanding how to develop them in your people is another. “Quite often, employees don’t have an opportunity to display their best skills daily,” the firm said. “One team member may be an exceptional verbal communicator, but is in a role that requires little person-to-person interaction. Another may be a terrific collaborator but typically works on solo projects. A skills assessment can uncover these hidden skills and competencies across your organization.”

Leadership and professional development opportunities also build skills as these programs identify where your employees are and give them a clear path for focus areas to progress throughout their careers, Korn Ferry notes. “Gamifying and incentivizing skill development is beneficial, too,” the report explains.

One multinational corporation Korn Ferry spoke to recently told them that they use an actual scorecard and a metaphorical point system to align culture with performance. Employees receive one point for behavior that aligns with the company’s culture and values, while 10 points are deducted for culturally inconsistent behavior. The goal is to demonstrate the harm inconsistency can cause.

“Whatever development strategy you take, it’s important to remember that skills do not exist in isolation,” the Korn Ferry report said. “A whole-person approach recognizes that organizational culture and structure impact how skills come to life.”

Related: The Skills That Help CEOs Make the Right Choices

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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