• James Kelley

Managing Talent in a Time of Uncertainty: An interview with industry experts. Part 2

Last week we published part 1 of this interview (click here to read)


This week we dive into the notion of soft skills, generational talent, and some gaps.


James Kelley:

The Department of Labor suggests that by 2026, over 60% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials and Gen Z. So, on the whole, these cohorts are diverse digital natives. They're asking for a different work environment. What are you sensing regarding talent in these cohorts? And just as a follow on question, how can an organization plan for this uncertainty with these cohorts?

Juliet Bourke:

I think those points you raised in point two are that social skills within the workplace, particularly leaders, are at a high point. So whereas before, leaders could have gone a long way just with technical skills, those days are passed. But I think there's still a legacy within our systems that leaders still believe technical skills are more important than social skills. And they're probably of equal importance, I would say, of equal importance.

It was interesting; a study that just came out in July with Harvard and Russell Reynolds looked at 17 years across 5,000 job descriptions. And they showed, from 2006, a bifurcation in the importance of technical and social skills. So social skills started becoming more prevalent, and technical skills began decreasing in their prevalence. The bifurcation resulted in a 70 percentage points gap.

So sensitivity to those issues, for example, well-being, becomes critical. The ability to communicate, be empathetic, influence people, and persuade within and outside of the organization becomes even more important than it has previously.


I was intrigued by how you were framing or reacting to what Lisa was saying about proactivity and reactivity because my impression of the workforce is still very reactive (Click here to read part 1). People will work out what is going on because they'll see something on LinkedIn or some other platform rather than having delicate sensitivities within their own organizations. Organizations still do annual surveys, for example. So I don't think that we have moved to a proactive position because I don't think our social skills are where they need to be as leaders.

Lisa Buckingham:

Yeah, I agree. And I would say I've seen many organizations create Chief Culture Officers, Chief Experience Officers, and that's strategic, but it's also reactive, right? So they're like, "Wait a minute, we have to figure this out." I loved seeing so much early talent focus this year that people were re-upping their leadership development programs and reigniting that.

Juliet Bourke:

And the atrophying of skills because we've all been doing it on Zoom. That's atrophy as well.

Lisa Buckingham:

So I've even been thinking that you have to teach early talent how to write a memo and correctly write an email that doesn't look like a text with, "THX you," or whatever. So it's really around that communication side, and people sometimes downplay soft skills, but I think it's an essential thing-

Juliet Bourke:

I do, too. Yeah.


James Kelley:

Let's talk about the fact that it's a multi-generational workforce right now. And so when we talk about being reactive and proactive, I guess my lens was going to the proactive side because these (Millennials and Gen Z) are the organization's future leaders in the next five to seven years. I'm painting a broad brush, but many, to your point, Lisa, don't have those fine-tuned business skills because they've been able to cut all the corners as they go. Not negatively, but because it's there, doable, and manageable. It's not their own fault. For example, when the microwave came on, it changed how we cooked and made family dinners. It just shifted the environment.

So I was thinking about that notion of the multi-generational. I want to go back to the root of what I'm trying to talk about in this question about if you're an organization. You know that your turnover is probably a bit higher in that cohort, and we have uncertainty on the horizon. What do you do? How do you meet them where they're at in a way that makes them feel appreciated and valued? And there was another stat that I was going to talk about, 87% of millennials and Gen Z want some formal development, but they're not getting it and leave organizations. I mean, that's a whole other layer in this conversation.

Juliet Bourke:

Where I was going to with social skills is that you want to select people into the workforce that do have the social skills, and we don't want to create a too broad a brush and say, "No one who's coming in has the social skills."

So you can be selective on it, whereas I think what we've been selective about before is technical skills or length of experience. Secondly, you want to develop people who don't have social skills. Promote people based on social skills as well because it's going to be about leadership instead of treating them as human resources. And that's what keeps people for longer.

Lisa Buckingham:

I agree. Because if people feel that they're being developed or somebody's taking the time to coach them on a work issue, that's a gift. It might not feel great at the time if it's not great feedback, but those are some of the best and most profound times in your career because then you sit back, and maybe you're in traffic one day, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, they actually took the time because they care about me and they want me to succeed."

So it's an essential thing, and I think my wrap today is really around this conversation; James (qChange) is making sure that it's a privilege to be a manager and a leader. And if you're not taking the time to develop every single person on your team and be consistent with performance feedback and mentoring and giving the right goals and feedback, good and bad, then maybe you shouldn't be a manager. Perhaps you should be an individual contributor.

James Kelley:

You know what I'm hearing, if I was to summarize both these points of view, is when we think about the uncertainty, it's really about getting down to the one-on-one. If you want people to feel valued and heard and stick around when it could be a little uncomfortable in the organization, it's about connection to that person. Letting them know they're listened to and valued.

I often joke that we're all nine-year-old kids at heart, so we just want to be heard, and if we're heard, we can deal with a disagreement, but it's when you're not heard, then that's usually when the walls come up. But if you just could be heard and appreciated, then disagreement's usually a lot easier at that point, so yeah.

Come back next week for part 3.

About the Interviewee:


Lisa Buckingham: Spent her career in human resources, starting in labor relations, and ending up in talent and learning and development. After 14 years, Lisa retired as CHRO of an F200 company. Now Lisa consults and mentors startups, including qChange.




Juliet Bourke, Ph D.: Juliet was a partner at Deloitte for 10 years in human capital and left that as COVID began. After completing her Ph.D., Juliet went back to consulting around human capital with different clients around the globe, where she now focuses on inclusive leadership. Beyond this, Juliet is a professor of practice at the University of New South Wales and sits on a couple of boards, including qChange.

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