My son wants to be an engineer or a nuclear physicist. He’s got the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills to be sure; but does he have the skills outlined by Geoff Colvin as the most important in our future economy in his recent Humans are Underrated?

“…tomorrow’s most valuable engineers will not be geniuses in cubicles; rather, they’ll be those who can build relationships, brainstorm, collaborate, and lead… The most valuable people are increasingly relationship workers.”

In the future, it’s the people who have the communication skills; those who can articulate ideas, bring others along in a new direction and facilitate sharing and teamwork.

What does this mean to the communicator?

The answer to that question is precisely why I wanted to bring Colvin to the IABC World Conference this year. I can’t wait to hear his thoughts. Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on that question.

Communicators have spent decades complaining about “not being at the table,” not being valued by business leaders, and being perceived as a “soft” discipline. Those who focus on tactics – communicators who measure things such as “published the newsletter on time” – are their own worst enemies in the battle to be recognized as a strategic, value-added function.

Perhaps the communicator’s renaissance is just beginning. I’ve long said that communicators are the only ones in organizations in the unique position of seeing across the entire organization, enabling them to:

  • Identify dynamics and relationships across the whole
  • Drill down into individual stovepipes of expertise
  • Connect people from different parts of the company
  • Recognize strategic opportunities to drive collaboration and innovation

Communicators are often the ones who know where the experts are, know where the bones are buried and know the “why” behind historic decisions. Most communicators also possess the skills necessary to get the most from that knowledge: relationship building, networking, researching, story telling and facilitation.

Because of our skills in relationship building, collaboration and communication, communicators are better positioned than ever before to be recognized as the valuable strategic partners we’ve always been. Note this doesn’t discount the continuing need to understand the business strategy and financials, now we get credit for those “soft” skills at which we excel.

What are the implications relative to digital communication channels?

As a communicator who specializes in digital workplace, I see clients struggle to reconcile their inherent love of face-to-face communication with the realities of global enterprise. Time zones, shift work and a need to reduce facility expenses all play a part in promoting digital channels.

Colvin gives us a pretty clear view of what the virtual work environment is doing to our people skills:

“Decades of research have established that children figure out how to (read nonverbal emotional cues) through in-person interaction with parents, siblings, and peers… daily screen time significantly cut the time available for in-person interaction with anyone…”

Our virtual channels – and increased reliance on social technology – reduce our time in front of each other, which may damage that most important skill set. We must find ways to balance the digital experience with productive interactions that promote the practice of the most important social skills.

Still, it’s important to remember that working virtually is nothing new. Many just used to do it without access to a treasure trove of readily available information. Many of us also have had a “digital workplace” for a long time; it just wasn’t effective, integrated, or efficient. This is due in large part to a lack of broader vision by our organizations.

The challenge before communicators is two-fold:

1.     Leverage the innately human abilities communicators excel at to position the profession as more valuable and relevant than it has ever been

2.     Identify better ways to use technology to enhance the employee experience and effectiveness while not impinging on our practice of human social skills

Ah, I love a good challenge!

P.S. I hope you’ll be in the room with me to hear first hand what Colvin has to say at the IABC World Conference in New Orleans. Register before March 4 for best pricing!