What are power skills, and why does your company need them?

What are power skills and why does your company need them
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When hiring new staff, you probably focus on experience, technical skills, and education first.

After all, you need a qualified, specialized team you can rely on to keep your customers and clients happy.

But, let’s say you hire an expert who’s proactive, driven, and experienced. What happens if it turns out they’re a poor team player?

And what happens if you bring on board a technically competent manager who struggles to empower and inspire their team?

You’re relying too much on technical, or “hard” skills – and not enough on power skills.

These skills are, at their core, human. They include:

  • Showing empathy

  • Thinking creatively

  • Attention to detail

  • Collaborating with others

  • Encouraging and supporting staff

  • Managing time and workloads

In a society dominated by a hunger for artificial intelligence and automation, “human” skills are vital for corporate success.

Below, we guide you through the most important power skills to hire for and train and how they benefit you, your team, and your customers.

What are power skills?

Power skills are personal qualities. They’re non-technical behaviors that help us collaborate with others in the workplace. They relate to things such as adaptability, interpersonal communication, self-management, and creativity.

Power skills work hand in hand with high emotional intelligence, or “EQ.” We typically measure EQ in four key ways:

  1. Your ability to manage your emotions, take initiative, and adapt to change

  2. Your awareness of your strengths, weaknesses, and reactions

  3. Your understanding of others’ needs, emotional cues, and social dynamics

  4. Your development of relationships, how you communicate, and handle potential conflict

Social and emotional power skills help complement technically capable people and hold just as much importance as technical skills.

For example, technical skills include graphic design, music composition, and driving vehicles. Power skills include empathetic communication, critical thinking, and motivating others.

How are power skills different from soft skills?

Power skills are soft skills. The name’s changed because there’s nothing soft or unimportant about these attributes.

The term “soft skills” comes from the US military, where the initial difference between “hard” (technical) and “soft” (interpersonal) skills seems related to value.

As time progressed, employers, recruiters, and coaches realized these “soft” skills deserved more attention.

The move to rename “soft” as “power” confirms the importance of power skills. They’re no longer “desirable” or “optional,” but run core to the building of a healthy workforce and well-rounded, capable individuals.

Although it’s a surface change, this rewording helps recruiters and trainers to prioritize personal attributes alongside, or even above, technical capabilities.

What’s more, these skills aren’t easy to attain. They take years to develop and perfect and are highly lucrative – hence power.

Moreover, employers’ demand for emotional or power skills is projected to increase by as much as 26% by 2030, affirming their place as a key component in the modern workplace.

What are the organizational benefits of power skills in the workplace?

Today’s workplace is vastly different than it was 50 or 60 years ago, and even compared to a pre-pandemic workplace. Lockdowns and remote working placed higher demands on human empathy and emotional intelligence.

The value of these aspects grew so much that lack of empathy and interpersonal management were key drivers of the Great Resignation

Nine out of ten US workers believe empathetic leaders boost work satisfaction, and studies show they positively improve engagement and innovation:

Top 3 reasons employees quite their job

Source

However, it’s important to focus on how power skills benefit organizational health. Here are a few reasons to start.

A summary of why power skills matter in the workplace

Reason

Benefit

You produce a more agile and adaptable workforce

It’s easier for businesses to react to sudden changes and technological advances

Problem-solving becomes proactive

Resolving queries faster means more room for business and revenue

It’s easier to present a human face

Customers prefer service with a human touch; reputation and revenue receive boosts

Leaders and staff work better together

Workforces are happier, more productive, and talent stays with the company

You produce a more agile and adaptable workforce

We’re in the middle of the hybrid and remote working age, meaning companies demand flexibility and adaptability from their staff.

The more social and emotional power skills employees develop, the more adaptable and flexible they become. Companies find it easier to grow and fraction confidently with immediate change, too.

Greater agility makes collaboration and teamwork easier across different departments. For example, power-skilled workers find it easy to move from one area to another if redeployed for urgent project support.

What’s more, technology is constantly evolving, forcing many businesses to reskill and upskill their staff on the go.

The best applicants have growth mindsets and power skills. They’re motivated to develop their own expertise, support others, and help companies that mentor them.

Problem-solving becomes proactive

Workers with power skills are great at spotting problems and taking immediate steps to solve them. They’re confident, well-connected, work well with authorities and departments, and don’t need constant supervision.

An employee with power skills thrives on “trial and error.” Where appropriate, they:

  • Communicate with others to find solutions

  • Look at complex problems from different angles

  • Manage their time and workload while exploring new ideas

  • Keep supervisors well-informed about progress

  • Work against tried-and-tested conventions to get results

Problems quickly disappear, productivity grows, and work quality improves.

It’s easier to present a human face

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly present in workplaces. More than a third of businesses already use AI tech in some form. However, businesses must remember their human roots.

Living in the “AI age” means customers expect lots of automated support, but they still highly value an authentic human experience with their favorite brands.

Staff with power skills find it easy to empathize with customers, delivering a more memorable customer experience.

A highly-rated, “human” customer experience:

  • Boosts brand reputation

  • Increases potential revenue

  • Improves employees’ self-worth

Two-thirds of companies compete on customer experience as a priority. It’s an edge no modern business should miss out on.

Leaders and staff work better together

Power skills produce more confident, empathetic, and autonomous leaders. 

Managers with strong power skills actively listen to the needs of their teams and, instead of barking orders, collaborate with them to find solutions.

Clearer communication between managers and staff leads to more satisfying feedback sessions, boosts engagement, and improves output quality. Well-managed personnel are self-motivated and are less likely to quit.

Employees and subordinates value managers who are good at solving problems, managing time, making firm decisions, showing empathy, and showing compassion (all power skills). Research further suggests workers engage better with supervisors who focus on their strengths.[1]

12 concrete power skills and how to test for them in new hires

Testing for power skills in new hires helps you build empowered, enthusiastic teams from scratch. 

You should still test for technical skills and request specific experience, but the more “powerful” your new hires are, the quicker you start reaping the rewards.

Here are 12 solid power skills you should test for, why, and how.

12 concrete power skills and how to test for them in new hires

Power skills list: A quick breakdown

Power skill

Definition

Agility and adaptability

Readiness to change roles and responsibilities at short notice

Collaboration and team working skills

Willingness and ability to work with others to reach shared goals

Communication

Sharing ideas and concerns with clarity and confidence

Creativity and innovative thinking

Innovating and going against the grain to succeed

Critical thinking

Solving problems objectively without bias or outside influence

Emotional intelligence

Managing and balancing emotions to navigate challenges and support others

Empathy and kindness

Connecting with others and their problems; demonstrating “human” understanding

Ethics and integrity

Acting honestly and morally, remaining accountable

Intercultural awareness

Working with people and respecting others without cultural bias or prejudice

Leadership

Inspiring and encouraging others to reach their full potential

Tenacity

Staying resilient and focused on goals despite setbacks and challenges

Time management

Handling personal workloads and meeting internal deadlines without sacrificing quality

1. Agility and adaptability

Agility and adaptability show an employee thrives with changing problems, scenarios, teams, and timescales.

Why it’s important

Agile and adaptable workers thrive in ever-changing environments. They’re willing to try new things, change their job profile quickly, and join new projects without pushback. They’re positive, think on their feet, and actively listen to feedback.

How to test for this skill

  1. Use a personality test (such as the 16 Types test) to measure your applicants’ processing abilities, attitude to decision-making, and how they’re motivated 

  2. Measure curiosity, resilience, and resourcefulness with pointed interview questions about previous projects they excelled in

2. Collaboration and team working skills

Collaboration skills show an applicant “works well with others.” Collaborative people enjoy working in teams and give space for others to have their say.

Why it’s important

A collaborative team player understands they’re one piece of a larger puzzle. They’re highly proactive and enthusiastic about working with different people for long periods. They adapt quickly to fast-paced environments and don’t slow down project deadlines (or harm quality) with self-promotion.

Collaborative workplaces handle multiple complex projects at once, with balanced approaches using varying technical skills and experience.

Collaboration is increasingly vital for workplace success. Collaborative tools and software are growing in popularity year on year.

How to test for this skill

  1. Use personality tests such as the DISC test to measure an applicant’s potential dominance in team settings, as well as their conscientiousness when working with others 

  2. Consider the Culture Add test, too, to measure how an applicant fits within your team setup

3. Communication

Effective communication means presenting ideas clearly and professionally while actively listening to others and taking their feedback onboard.

Why it’s important

Clear and open communication removes the need for guesswork between team members and supervisors, and prevents misunderstandings.

How to test for this skill

  1. Ask hires how they previously handled conflicts in the workplace

  2. Provide a dual written-and-verbal Communication test to measure their people skills in different scenarios and mediums

4. Creativity and innovative thinking

In a workplace setting, creative thinking is the ability to produce new ideas to help solve existing problems. 

Creative employees ask questions, work with others to find solutions, and challenge existing processes (while respecting authority).

Why it’s important

Creative people help to prevent solution stagnation. They look for new ways to solve problems, pay attention to minute details, and confidently explore more efficient, cost-effective, and results-driven options. 

A creative team is productive, confident, and never satisfied with the status quo. Creativity helps companies take larger, more competitive strides ahead of their rivals.

Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and business owners (such as Mark Cuban and Richard Branson) cite creativity as a vital power skill.

How to test for this skill

  1. Create role-play environments for applicants and watch how they approach everyday problems in your workplace 

  2. Design pre-hire projects to help candidates show their creativity beyond simple interview answers

  3. Use a simple Problem-Solving test to explore how hires respond creativity to complex scenarios

5. Critical thinking

Thinking critically means doing so without outside influence (emotions, other opinions, and bias).

Why it’s important

Critical thinkers are efficient, focused problem solvers. They approach scenarios with open minds and only deal with the facts. 

These thinkers are confident and unfazed, often producing multiple solutions and unique perspectives, communicating openly with others without bias.

Critical-thinking teams focus on results, meaning companies get high-quality products and services without outside disruption.

How to test for this skill

  1. Ask your applicants to describe how they approached problems without having the full facts at hand, and how they’d approach errors left by supervisors 

  2. Use the Critical Thinking test to help candidates show deductive reasoning and how they interpret complex or incomplete information 

6. Emotional intelligence

An emotionally intelligent employee manages and uses their emotions to support others positively.

Why it’s important

People with high EQ are infectiously positive and proactive. They’re inspiring and engaging leaders and connect well with others. 

They’re assets in high-pressure environments because they manage their emotions and stress effectively to focus on finding objective solutions.

Up to 57% of managers claim their best-performing staff have high EQs.

How to test for this skill

  1. Ask interviewees to show how they manage stressful workloads in specific situations and how they’ve approached potential ethical dilemmas 

  2. Create customer service role plays and observe how they handle obstructive or problematic users 

  3. Test negotiation skills and how they communicate with others (both verbally and in writing)

7. Empathy and kindness

Empathetic people relate easily to others without judgment, bias, or personal gain. Kind people help others without expecting anything in return.

Why it’s important

Highly empathetic people are patient and willing to listen to others’ viewpoints before making snap decisions. 

They find it easy to relate to customers and end users with complex problems, too, presenting an amiable “face” for a business. 

They help foster positivity and proactivity without letting emotions slow progress and end quality.

How to test for this skill

  1. Use personality tests such as the nine-point Enneagram test and Carl Jung’s 16-point program to find out how your candidates approach problems and work with others 

8. Ethics and integrity

People with strong ethics communicate honestly, remain accountable for their actions, and make decisions on what’s “humanely right.”

Why it’s important

Employees driven by ethics and integrity are highly reliable and learn from their mistakes. They react positively to feedback and communicate openly without agendas or personal bias. 

They make great leaders because they treat everyone with the same respect and honesty (regardless of role and/or seniority).

Before measuring this skill, understand that employee integrity testing is sometimes controversial because some applicants are dishonest – and ethics testing doesn’t necessarily account for someone’s future actions. 

How to test for this skill

  1. Balance Business Ethics and Compliance tests with personality and motivation tests

  2. Measure suitability for your team with culture add analysis

9. Intercultural awareness

Intercultural awareness is an objective understanding of and appreciation for cultures other than one’s own.

Why it’s important

People that show intercultural awareness work with other people without bias or prejudice. 

Workplaces are becoming increasingly multicultural, particularly as companies continue to grow through remote and hybrid working across different continents. 

However, workplace discrimination continues to ravage US businesses – 61% of US workers experience or witness it. Therefore, this kind of intercultural fluency is highly desirable.

How to test for this skill

  1. Using test scenarios, monitor how applicants adjust their communication and/or working styles with people from different backgrounds 

  2. Use culture add testing to measure how applicants fit your specific team profile and ethos

10. Leadership

Leaders motivate, support, and encourage others. 

Leadership is more than just “being inspirational” or “pulling rank.” It’s the art of positively influencing others to reach their goals.

Why it’s important

Effective leaders bring out the best in their team members. They help to motivate collaborations, boost employee morale, increase confidence, inspire trust, and encourage innovative thinking. 

Good leaders take time to actively listen and develop the people they’re responsible for.

How to test for this skill

  1. Use a tailored Leadership and People Management test to find applicants who genuinely want to bring out the best in people 

  2. Test for emotional intelligence and empathy, and create potential scenarios where they’d need to provide disciplinary support and/or coaching 

  3. Design creative pre-recruitment tasks such as producing sample personal development plans

11. Tenacity

Tenacious people “keep going” in the face of increasing challenges without letting emotion or personal bias interfere.

Why it’s important

Healthy tenacity is a great motivator, and it’s desirable in leadership candidates. However, although positive, it’s important to balance tenacity with empathy, open communication, and a healthy perspective. 

Healthy tenacity is an attitude to continue pushing towards success by working with others and monitoring progress, not working to the point of burnout.

How to test for this skill

  1. Measure emotional stability and agreeableness through the Big 5 (OCEAN) test

  2. Carefully measure communication skills through written and verbal tests

  3. Use the Business Judgment test to ascertain how applicants work under pressure 

12. Time management

People with great time management skills self-manage workloads and deadlines, and ensure they attend to all projects with the same determination and effort.

Why it’s important

Time management skills demonstrate that applicants are reliable people to delegate to, whether in-house or remotely. 

They meet deadlines and deliver quality results, communicating honestly and openly if they need support.

Thanks to the growth of remote work and freelance culture, more people are working autonomously on their own projects away from the company office. 

As such, companies entrust staff to manage their deadlines and produce quality results on their own time, often without direct supervision. 

How to test for this skill

  1. Provide applicants pre-hiring assignments with deadlines or checkpoints, measuring quality output and adherence to schedules 

  2. Use a tailored Time Management test to measure applicant attitudes to schedules and their flexibility for solo project management

6 tips for fostering social and emotional power skills in your existing workforce

Although hiring people with power skills to create workforces from scratch is worthwhile, there are proven ways to bring out the power in your existing team, too. 

Here are a few tips to help you start.

Power skill planning: A summary

Tip

Benefit

Proactively plan around power skills

Identify skill gaps and future-proof against potential vulnerabilities

Look for upskilling opportunities

Grow your company from within instead of constantly hiring and firing

Build a culture of honesty and learning

Upskill existing personnel to boost deployability and keep talent

Create professional development plans

Show employees you care about their development and help them find new opportunities

Coach and mentor your staff one-on-one

Help individuals progress within your company

Offer management training opportunities

Encourage promising employees with new opportunities based on power skills and experience

1. Proactively plan around power skills

Always map out the ideal interpersonal skills needed for individual roles, teams, and projects, and ask big questions of your business. What skills do you prioritize or value most of all for growth?

After exploring your skill expectations, break down your employee attributes, experience, and aptitudes. Measure their power levels with skills testing and identify areas where you offer more support and training.

Don’t be afraid to break down your processes down to the finer points. Use this time to plan for future skill gaps with talent mapping. Where are the biggest vulnerabilities in your organization?

2. Look for upskilling opportunities

After skill and talent gap analysis, invest wisely to future-proof your firm against skill deficit challenges. Look for opportunities where you potentially transfer talent from one area to another which needs more support.

Individual training packages should account for technical and power skill development, to improve morale, increase ease of workforce redeployment, and protect your company against potential skill deficits in the future.

Investing time and money in existing personnel is much more cost-effective than onboarding and training a whole new cohort of employees.

3. Build a culture of honesty and learning

Testing your employees for power skills only goes so far. Building a culture of honesty which prioritizes learning and development helps your personnel to open honest conversations with their managers and team members.

An “open door” policy enables people to speak honestly about areas they feel they need more help with, and what they’d like to achieve in the long term. This opens up proactive technical and power skill development.

“Open door” policies encourage people to talk about skills they feel are inferior to technical abilities.

A great working example is Schneider Electric, a global energy specialist. The firm offers free online resources to employees comprising hundreds of courses relevant to their industry.[2]

4. Create professional development plans

Professional development plans (PDPs) show your employees that you care about their careers, and help to retain talented employees who value on-the-job learning opportunities.

Around 34% of personnel leave roles favoring those offering greater learning and development emphasis.

PDPs don’t have to revolve around specific professional goals – include targets for personal development, too (e.g., through learning power skills). 

For example, use a PDP to help an employee in need of support with mechanical reasoning skills, or improving their reading comprehension.

Through PDPs, managers can suggest power skill development to help open up opportunities elsewhere in the business.

Adobe is a high-profile firm passionate about individual power skill development, with personnel receiving regular performance reviews, educational reimbursements, and ongoing mentoring. It’s helped the company rank highly as a desirable employer for recent graduates.[3]

5. Coach and mentor your staff one-on-one

As with PDPs, 1:1 coaching empowers managers to speak freely with employees and to learn more about what they need from an organization. 

Coaching sessions produce opportunities for managers to identify potential areas for development (as well as talent mapping).

In 1:1 sessions, managers test employees with exercises to measure and coach, customizable to individual goals and needs. 

Focusing on power skills, as above, helps management find new opportunities within the business for specific staff and boosts team morale.

This style of coaching boosts employee engagement and job satisfaction. Data shows 71% of those receiving weekly meetings feel more engaged with their roles. 

6. Offer management training opportunities

People don’t just want to develop or improve skills and abilities. They want to move beyond their current stations, increase their salaries, and take on new challenges. 

Creating a training culture focused on power skills and bolstered by a healthy variety of leadership opportunities helps to boost employee retention, too.

Developing leadership skills in the workplace provides you with a wider pool of potential talent to choose from in-house.

Although you should always be open to hiring leaders, developing from within is efficient and easy to manage after talent gap analysis.

As an example, Amazon, the retail and entertainment giant, offers month-long leadership programs to those interested in scaling up. 

Power skills = plugged-in personnel

Social and emotional power skills are more than just “soft” skills. 

They’re human qualities crucial for corporate success in the New 20s.

Hiring on technical skills and experience alone only takes you so far. You need engaging leaders, reliable team players, and creative communicators.

Investing in power skills training for your team (and testing skills in new hires):

  • Fosters a positive, supportive work environment

  • Helps you retain exceptional talent

  • Presents an appealing, human face to customers and clients

  • Makes you more attractive to future talent you wish to hire

Be sure to read our ongoing series of guides on skill testing and skills-based hiring for more insight – and before you start talent mapping from scratch, explore our test library for inspiration.

Sources

  1. Harter, Jim; Adkins, Amy. (April 8, 2015). “Employees Want a Lot More From Their Managers”. Gallup Workplace. Retrieved May 4, 2023. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236570/employees-lot-managers.aspx 

  2. “Schneider Electric University”. (2023). Schneider Electric. Retrieved April 27, 2023. https://university.se.com/ 

  3. Valet, Vicky. (September 5, 2018). “America’s Best Employers For New Graduates 2018”. Forbes. Retrieved April 27, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/sites/vickyvalet/2018/09/05/americas-best-employers-for-new-graduates-2018/

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