Entrepreneurs and innovation are widely regarded as the engine rooms of economic growth. Australian federal and state governments are devoting significant funds and resources toward the creation of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Part of this includes support for skill development – but are we overlooking a vital skillset?
When people think about entrepreneurial skills, the skills that spring to mind are around product development and pitching. Read the bio of any tech start-up founder and these skills are the ones that get the most visibility. More often than not they also receive the most government training support.
But far less attention or funding is given to equipping entrepreneurs with more subtle (but no less effective) human skills. But it turns out that soft skills are as critical in start-ups as they are in the land of big corporates.
A case in point is arguably the world’s largest start-up - Google. In 2008, Google initiated Project Oxygen to find out what makes a manager great at Google. Given Google’s original policy of hiring on the basis of technical proficiency, the results were surprising.
Google's Project Oxygen found eight skills that defined great managers at Google. Then, in 2018, Rework with Google revisited those eight skills- and added two more. A great manager at Google looks like this…
- Is a good coach
- Empowers team and does not micromanage
- Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
- Is productive and results-oriented
- Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
- Supports career development and discusses performance
- Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
- Has key technical skills to help advise the team
- Collaborates across Google
- Is a strong decision maker
Sound familiar? While there is no question of the technical prowess of Googlers, it is the soft skills that stand out from this list - empathy, leadership, communication & listening skills, inclusiveness and strategic thinking. These are the hallmarks of mature leadership.
As start-ups move from product creation to business establishment and growth, there is evidence to say that that the expectations placed upon entrepreneurs shift as well.
According to the American Journal of Management, “the nature of work and likewise the skill set to attract, hold, and assure success of entrepreneurial undertakings has changed…in order to gain a competitive advantage, entrepreneurial and small business initiatives must implement continual and ongoing growth of interpersonal skills commonly referred to as soft management skills”.
The article goes on to say that “despite the growing body of evidence pointing to the value of soft skills, businesses and governmental programs continue to under invest in soft skills training and emotional intelligence.”
The early narratives of many successful enterprises are laced with stories of initial leaders who were displaced (think Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey) as the needs of the business required a different skillset.
There is a lot in the balance. Up to 80% of start-ups fails spectacularly. The American Journal of Management maintains that “the underlying cause of failure is rarely technical or ideas related. Rather, most failure is “attributed to a breakdown in communication between executives and talent, team and project managers. (Hess, 2012) Gerber (2001) found entrepreneurs run into problems with the management of the business, because they concentrate their attention on their specialized field of expertise, neglecting managerial skills development”.
It makes sense to equip entrepreneurs with these skills from the outset; especially given the massive changes being driven through the workforce by artificial intelligence and automation. As more and more routine tasks fall to our automated co-workers, human workers will continue to be valued for the things that humans do well.
The Foundation for Young Australians The New Work Smarts report suggests says that…
“In particular, by 2030 it is predicted that we will, on average, spend double the time at work solving problems, spend 41 per cent more time on critical thinking and judgement…utilise verbal communication and interpersonal skills for 7 hours a week each (up 17 per cent); and develop an entrepreneurial mindset”
So what needs to change?
We need to prepare our entrepreneurial leaders with the skills they need to guide their enterprises as they shift beyond start up into mature businesses. Young entrepreneurs, as tomorrow’s leaders need the soft skills to truly lead and develop their staff, share their vision and build the human capital within their business.
Need some new skills to grow your business? View our courses and find out how soft skills could help your business thrive!