On what “soft skills*” will Executives need to rely on in order to maintain their employability?

Interview with Jean-Pierre Scandella, Managing Partner at ARROWMAN Executive Search

Interview by Olivier Durand

Jobs of the future do not exist yet, 50% of them will be transformed within 10 years, 10 to 20% will be created and, and the same amount will probably disappear.

On what “soft skills*” will Executives need to rely on in order to maintain their employability?

“We are currently experiencing a job revolution. Even though no one can distinctly predict the future, certain strong tendencies are observed in terms of competences to acquire and know-how to adopt. Global transformation, the multiplication of information flows and the simultaneous management of a multitude of projects, are factors that oblige Managers to have a critical mindset, making them break with their traditions and putting them in a position to advance and discriminate with refined judgement in order to deal with current events and not against them. Furthermore, the economic conditions now impose the need for new growth levers (in every sector: industry, luxury, distribution…), forcing everyone to work in a transversal and collaborative way; working in multidisciplinary teams is the leitmotiv. Finally, Managers must be creative and innovative, because it is possible to do more with less, companies now ask us to find “intra preneurs”. We can now say that creativity outweighs technical competences.”

Is it an advantage for Managers to have a global overview & understanding of the situation?  

“Of course! 100% of our clients’ requests lean in this direction. But on this specific point, we are confronted with profile scarcity. Global vision and the sense of synthesis, are not the main skills of candidates, who are often specialized in only one piece of the value chain.”

 Are communication and relational skills still current?

“The ability to communicate is not new, but it remains current. Everyone that has responsibilities is a transmission belt. Managers must show personal leadership aptitudes. Recognized as trustworthy, and therefore convincing, they must stimulate the goodwill of their collaborators in order to drive them towards their objectives and also towards transformation. Relational skills are essential. Managers must conciliate exigency and goodwill. Being able to put themselves in the place of others and show empathy are primordial qualities, especially in middle-management which often involves dealing with a delicate interface between two layers of management.”

Information technology has transformed the economic landscape, what impact does it have on the recruitment of Managers?

“There isn’t a single job today that doesn’t involve data or technology. The revolution is in motion! Technology has sneaked its way into functions that we did not necessarily expect it to. General Management positions, where the role used to be observing the expertise of others, are now more and more involved. Companies hire Directors who must imperatively master technology. It’s no longer even conceivable to have a career without it. Moreover, companies who struggle to evolve, usually operate in the old way and haven’t managed to make their Executive Committee evolve.”

You said earlier that it’s impossible to predict the future. What is the specific quality that we should expect from a Director who must be capable of giving sense when things get foggy?

“A manager must be able to maintain a continuous watch logic. It’s a fundamental capacity that must be cultivated in order to pick up on signals and trends, basically everything that will make up his company of tomorrow. It’s an aptitude that is expected for the function of CIO. It is very difficult to make the right strategic choices. Those holding this position must be torchbearers, the ones who light the path. Companies need to bring on board Managers that will move it forward and steer it in the right course.”

Do these « know-hows » and « soft-skills » only concern some specific functions, or considering the current mutations, will they be necessary for all collaborators?

« Objectively, yes, everyone is concerned, and in any case, all Executives are. Even if it isn’t a revolution or something new for Entrepreneurs. The introduction of information technologies broke traditional hierarchies. But not everyone has the same level of training from the start. Companies ask us to find Executives with all of these qualities and with 100% of expertise, without considering internal training. We would like them to invest in this specific aspect. The reality of the market must induce some compromises. Organizations define positions that don’t necessarily take into account the reality of the population. Five-legged sheep are more and more complicated to find, we only recruit women and men.”

To conclude, what is missing in fine to truly progress in the organization?

“Managers must imperatively have an appetite for risks. There is too much self-censorship in companies. Being willing to take on risks, is simply accepting to win. And other than winning, what else can happen? In the organization, everything is thought through, circumscribed and processed, Managers must nevertheless struggle to maintain their personal dimension and assume it. A good Manager is one who accepts that he cannot be a champion on his own, and who knows how to surround himself with the skills that he lacks, in brief, who completes the puzzle with agility!”

* The seven “Soft Skills” as defined by Tony Wagner, researcher at Harvard Graduate School of Innovation:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Ability to be creative and innovative
  • Ability to understand global situations, especially from a transcultural perspective.
  • Interpersonal & communication skills
  • Mastery of information technology
  • Ability to never stop learning throughout life, ability to evolve in one’s career and therefore to change jobs.
  • Ability to be agile and take on challenges. Self-management and emotional agility.
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