In a recent joint report on "Delivering The Workforce For The Future" by Mercer & Oliver Wyman, the authors noted that "technical skills become the 'means' to compete and human skills become the 'competitive advantage'".

The report identifies some of the challenges that organisations are already dealing with and which will become ever more pressing in the future. The ability to navigate informal hierarchies and deal with an increasingly diverse workforce, are just two of the challenges it discusses.

It's encouraging that they identify the ability to influence as a key human skill moving forward. Influence is often regarded as something that 'people just do' rather than as a set of abilities and skills that can be developed, practiced and reflected on. Organisations tend to focus on developing technical skills but the competitive advantage that human skills provide will become increasingly important. Influence can be applied and developed consciously and this can be done at the organisational level.

There are different ways that this can be implemented but three things for organisations to think about are:

  1. Adopt a common language. Influence means different things to different people, adopting a common language makes it easier for those within an organisation to talk about issues around influence in the same way. This might be a common list of motivations or fears that people can use when discussing their own concerns.
  2. Include influence in planning. Whether it's engaging with clients or planning a change internally, including influence considerations within a plan makes it more of a conscious activity. This in itself helps surface all the other attendant skills that go with it.
  3. Talk internally about influence. Very few of the organisations that we work with, talk internally about how they influence. This means there is minimal reflection or feedback - both of which are essential to improving. Whether it's 360 feedback about how you influence as an individual, or a sales team looking at how they influence clients, collectively talking about it is key to improving.

It's good to see reports such as the Mercer/Oliver Whyman report and there has been a trend for recognition of people skills as a differentiator. What will be interesting, will be to see which companies seek to up-skill people in this area and which ones seek to recruit based around these competencies.