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  • Communication skills and flexibility are just two things to keep in mind when working in an increasingly connected world. Our experts provide five people skills that are essential for today's work environment.

The many different challenges associated with digital transformation affect not only companies but also their employees. What people skills do they need to develop to keep pace with the demands of an increasingly digitalized and connected world? We posed this question to experts who work on issues related to digital transformation on an everyday basis.

Skill #1: Think broad!

In times of change, it is rarely advisable to stick to one area of excellence and hope for the best. The key to success is interdisciplinarity. Combining knowledge and people skills from different disciplines makes it easier to adapt to change.

As Markus Weinberger, Professor for Internet of Things at Aalen University, says: “We still need specialists in many areas, but there is also a need for people who can take a holistic view of an entire system. In most cases today, that means self-taught professionals whose interdisciplinary skills and experience have given them a more broadly based set of knowledge.” He also believes that the need for interdisciplinary skills is growing and that it will play an increasing role in education.

Paul Hatch, CEO of TEAMS Design USA, makes a distinction between vertical and horizontal expertise and talks about what he calls T-shaped people: “In the future, employees will be required to offer a balanced mix of in-depth specialized knowledge and broad expertise.”

Skill #2: Make communication a priority

Communication skills are the logical extension of interdisciplinary knowledge. “There have always been people who excel in creating value for their company by activating their networks,” says Stefan Ferber, CEO of Bosch.IO. “These people are active behind the scenes, but also know precisely who needs to talk to whom, and when, and how best to bring them together.” Teams don’t function properly without such “communicators.”

Tariq Hussain, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Zumtobel Group, says: “When I’m searching for new recruits, I not only look at their professional qualifications. It’s equally important to me that they should be at ease in any situation – able to communicate with customers and partners and asserting themselves even outside the usual boundaries of their work. Ultimately, they need to become change agents for our digital transformation.”

Thomas Alber, Director of Software Engineering for the IoT and Smart Cities, agrees: “We need people who really understand our customers’ needs, who talk to them and take their view. The solutions we build then reflect what we have learned from the customers, what their needs and expectations are. Therefore, the key for a successful solution is applying the user centered design approach.”

Skill #3: Break the silos

In a connected world, there are many points of contact between diverse areas of responsibility and expertise. “Nobody can get far by going it alone. Some form of cooperation is always necessary,” says Markus Weinberger.

“One part of digital transformation is the desire to break the silo, to break down walls. Everybody should be working together in a more cooperative and collaborative way,” says Pierre Maillot, Business Development Director at Robert Bosch North America. In his opinion, many job descriptions will need to be revised to provide scope for a wider diversity of tasks. “I think we need that, because it fosters creativity, innovation, and cross-divisional cooperation.”

Maillot also notes that companies today tend to work more closely together with their customers, in a joint effort to develop solutions adapted to specific problems.

Skill #4: Think outside the box

Julia Niklas is a believer in the importance of agility as a people skill. She was Head of Human Resources at Bosch.IO (formerly Bosch Software Innovations) for many years. “I’m a big fan of disruptive thinkers who speak their mind, even if it might upset some people, and don’t need outside motivation to get things done.”

Bosch.IO alumni, Gabriel Wetzel, cites customer interaction as an example. “I need someone who can see the whole picture and understands the challenges and opportunities our customers face despite not having all relevant information.” In Wetzel’s view, it takes a flexible attitude and a quickness of comprehension to adapt to constantly changing circumstances, find the right response, and make the best for the customer out of every situation.

Skill #5: Think about the consequences

People working in the IoT ought to give more thought to how the Internet of Things will impact people’s lives. Our interviewees mentioned this topic many times. In short, they feel that companies must ensure that the technologies they design will take humans into consideration.

This directly impacts staff. Wanting to work with the latest, coolest gadgets is not enough; IoT specialists also need to comprehend the transformational power of the technologies they work on. In the near future, more and more automated systems will be able to play an active part in more and more aspects of our lives. Although this can benefit society tremendously, people can also exploit automation for nefarious purposes. This makes it imperative that we all better understand the consequences. On a related note, our interviewees also stressed that – as the IoT advances – a system of checks and balances will become necessary to prevent unintentional harm.

More on digital transformation?

This text is based on interviews we conducted in preparation for a white paper on digital transformation. Do you want to dive deeper into it? You can download it here:

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