- September 30, 2020
September marks a time of new beginnings. Autumn arrives, colours change, students return from holiday breaks, and for many new graduates they take their first step into graduate schemes. This September, much like the rest of the year, it’s not without its challenges. From university halls on lockdown to virtual inductions, institutions are having to adapt quickly to the demands of the environment. But what impact will Covid-19 have on those developing their skills ready for the early stages of their careers?
Consulting as a profession relies largely on developing relationships and utilising soft skills to enact change – skills that we predominantly develop through social engagements. At a time when many of us are encouraged to work from home, limit our activities and maintain small social bubbles, what skills should our leaders of the future ensure they continue to develop?
We’re probably all guilty of it. You’ve dialled into a webinar for an update, you hear some background noise, or perhaps you spot a message come through. That moment of lapsed concentration, and you’re no longer engaged in your meeting. Whilst this may not have a significant impact to start with, it can build bad habits. If these habits creep into the calls that require your investment in a conversation; to coach your client, provide insightful recommendations or offer support, the value you add diminishes.
Concentrate. Reaffirm. Feedback. Respond.
By following the principles of active listening, and providing that demonstration of understanding through reaffirmation, you gain empathy with your audience.
Zoom fatigue has hit most of us through this year, whether it’s the non-stop conference calls, or the influx of online quizzes held during the depths of lockdown. Being on camera all day has been exhausting, and to look after ourselves we are seeing a shift in ‘camera off’ calls. However, hidden from sight, we lack the ability to provide visual cues as both a presenter and in picking up on our audience’s response.
Rolled eyes, smiles, hand gestures. Small statements that can have a big impact on how a message is received. Being able to pick up those non-verbal cues can indicate the success of a message. In developing presentation skills, it’s important to remember these cues translate over camera, and similar emphasis should be placed on posture and facial expressions as would be face-to-face. From an observer’s perspective, encouraging the use of audience cameras to identify reactions is one approach, but we can also make up for the lack of cues in other ways;
- Follow up one-to-one with key influencers, two-way communication enables more openness in discussion
- Utilise anonymous opinion polls during sessions – show your audience there’s no repercussion for honest feedback
It’s probably hard to find a ‘skills of the future’ list without Emotional Intelligence being included nowadays. Being able to empathetically handle relationships, recognise emotions in others and respond in a way to generate the best outcome for all is a skill. This is one where isolation provides a challenge. However, like any skill, it can be developed with practice. Self-evaluation and observation provides a learning opportunity. Understand how you respond when environments change and use that to build your awareness of how others may react. By putting yourself in others’ shoes, you can continue to develop your awareness of mixed emotions and understand how best to find solutions and make decisions.
Teamwork / Virtual Collaboration
Carrying out work as part of a team is key to most professions. In consulting, this team can cross both your internal organisation and the client’s. This can prove challenging when company cultures differ, and requires adaptability to ensure work progresses to desired project demands. As we shift towards ‘the new normal’, it is expected that workplaces will see a greater emphasis on hybrid working environments. This will require teams to collaborate with colleagues, both in the room and virtually.
Creativity will be required to ensure teams can continue to engage in ways that generate the right level of interaction, and can inspire innovation through work. As always, teams function when players perform their role to the best of their ability. Space needs to be provided for the thinkers as well as the speakers when collaborating. Ensure individuals have time to prepare and the platforms to enable engagement.
Whilst these skills aren’t newly in demand, the way in which they will be developed is changing. Technology will continue to have an impact on high currency skills moving forwards, but it is clear that the fundamentals of communication, and interpersonal skills required for effective consulting and leadership, will continue to be in demand. As employers and educators, its key we continue to develop these skills.