7 soft skills IT teams need to drive digital transformation

by Stephen Danos

Technical skills are easy to focus on when building a team — they are concrete, easy to measure, and familiar. Back in January 2020, a LinkedIn study identified soft skills that employees should have: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic infiltrating everyone’s lives in some form, soft skills are being put to the test as enterprises seek to maintain operations.

Even without a global pandemic, soft skills are challenged — especially among companies undergoing a digital transformation, which involves tackling new tasks and working with teams throughout the organization. Without workers who possess the ability to solve problems, get things done, and work well with others, managing change at that scale is a risky undertaking. 

In addition, more companies are fast-tracking their digital transformation due to the COVID-19 pandemic as employees are working from home and tech companies are making tools free to help with the transition. Even though many of their internal customers are working from home, it doesn’t mean that IT professionals have the same ability, as they must triage technical issues in-person and through remote desktop tools, maintain on-premises servers, and manage many more critical functions. 

With all of this in mind, here are seven soft skills IT leaders must look for when building teams for digital transformation right now and in a post-coronavirus world. 

1. Critical thinking

When it comes to new undertakings, critical thinking is a skill that helps people define and solve new problems that come their way.  It involves conceptualizing, synthesizing, and analyzing data, as well as the ability to reason and draw conclusions from those analyses. It’s essential for business survival.

Yet a study by MindEdge found that only 36% of current students and recent graduates feel that they are well trained in critical thinking, and only 20% feel their colleagues are well-trained. 

To hire critical thinkers, look for candidates who can demonstrate their thought process to you when talking through their work, including examples of how they have handled making important decisions or solving complex problems through research, deliberation, collaboration, decision making, and execution.

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2. Complex communication

Digital transformation can require complex changes that require buy-in across an organization. Your team must be able to take technical terms and explain them — in writing and through speech — in a way that the rest of the business can understand. Your ability to persuade and influence others will also be a factor.

This is especially true because your digital transformation will touch every department and employee in your company. You need people who can create buy-in and understanding of the process and goals throughout the company, and potentially accomplish these tasks remotely.

3. Creativity

Creativity isn’t just being able to draw amazing pictures or write thought-provoking short stories. Creative people can look at a problem and think of new ways to solve it in ways that often seem off-the wall at first glance. They aren’t afraid to take a risk during the thinking and brainstorming phase. 

To gauge the creativity skills of a potential hire, consider sharing a current challenge that the company is looking to solve and ask the candidate how they would approach the problem. Don’t focus on the viability of the solution, but on their thought process and originality. Does the person rely on traditional processes and methods, or are they proposing a new angle that you hadn’t considered?  

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4. Collaboration

These days, work is inherently collaborative. You need team members who are willing to work with others — listen to their ideas, brainstorm, communicate, take feedback, and be willing to share the spotlight. 

For example, during GE’s transition to one master CRM, the team collaborated with employees in different roles and departments of the company by giving people an equal voice, eliminating silos, and having technology experts involved in the entire process. With many workers working from home right now, teams can adopt cloud-based technologies to maintain effective collaboration, whether that’s through video conferencing, digital whiteboards, or a collaborative work management platform.

5. Emotional intelligence

According to LinkedIn’s annual study, workers with emotional intelligence possess  “a mix of self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy, and motivation.” These traits help teams pull together to accomplish extraordinary goals during digital transformation, especially during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

IT pros are trained to put internal customers first, and chances are right now they face a mountain of requests for troubleshooting hardware, software, and computer peripherals. With an increased workload and a new work from home reality that could stick around after the pandemic, individuals with higher emotional intelligence will offer to help out, wherever they’re needed. 

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6. Flexibility and adaptability

Regardless of how organized you are, your digital transformation will not always go according to plan. Some tasks will take longer than expected. New challenges will arise. The end result may look completely different from what you imagined when you started. 

So you need people on your team who can easily change course and adapt quickly. By filling your team with people who are flexible and can pivot easily, you can focus on changing the organization rather than managing change within your own team.

7. Productivity and accountability

To meet your goals around digital transformation in a timely manner, you need people who can get a lot done quickly. You know the type: everyone else wonders how they seem to find more hours in the day to get things done. And equally important, you need people accountable to their work. 

These skills can be difficult to assess during an interview, especially as many companies are transitioning to virtual conversations. Consider asking the interviewee to tell you about a recent work project. Look for clues in their narration to gauge what the candidate was responsible for and what they were able to accomplish in a short period of time. To assess their accountability, ask what they would have done if the project was running late.

Building a team that thrives

Building a team that can take on the thorniest of challenges is no easy undertaking. But keeping in mind the importance of soft skills, as well as technical skills, when hiring for your team can help your team be more effective and resilient during challenging times.