Why are soft skills critical for the workplace, in 2020 and beyond? “Humans can imagine things that never have been,” writes Dani Johnson from RedThread Research, in Udemy’s Humanizing Learning report. “We are better able to change our circumstances, [with] a greater ability to innovate and create. Chimps react to their environments and robots iterate; humans can dream futures for themselves that currently don’t exist, and then work toward them.” This Udemy and RedThread research project highlighted the most important human skills that defined our evolution, and now shape our potential to thrive in the age of automation. The report says that envisioning the future, storytelling, collaborating, and using tools are four uniquely human traits that cannot be replicated by robots.
Moreover, our recent Workplace Learning Trends 2020 report confirms that these skills are being prioritized for training at work, now more than ever. According to learning data on Udemy for Business, employees around the world are increasingly cultivating these human super strengths — creativity, emotional intelligence, storytelling, and more. In the workplace, the impact of these skills is clear:
- Organizations that train employees on uniquely human traits like collaboration and storytelling perform better than companies that don’t, according to Udemy’s Humanizing Learning Report.
- Training in communication and problem-solving can deliver a 12% boost in productivity and retention, yielding a 250% return on investment through increases in efficiency.
- Managers who incorporate soft skills into their leadership approach see a 30% increase in team productivity.
- Google’s Project Oxygen research found that its most innovative, productive teams and managers were defined by high scores in soft skills.
With this kind of proof, and the unique role humans play in the age of robots, soft skills are critical in the new decade. But where do you start?
The top soft skills of 2020, according to companies around the world
To guide your exploration, Udemy for Business analyzed the learning activity of thousands of global organizations and employees throughout 2019. Based on our research, here are the top 10 soft skills for 2020 that will empower you and your organization to face the challenges of the new decade.
1. Growth mindset
In our era of rapid change, employees must have a unique superpower or a growth mindset to meet the complex challenges of the workplace. The term “growth mindset” was coined by Stanford professor and motivation research pioneer Carol Dweck, who defines it as the following:
- People with a growth mindset believe that their talents can be developed through hard work and feedback. Companies with a growth mindset culture report more empowered, loyal, and innovative employees.
- People with a fixed mindset believe talents are innate and unchangeable. Companies with a fixed mindset culture report employees choosing “shortcuts” and exhibiting deception, amongst other toxic practices.
To cultivate this skill at all levels, Udemy’s content collection on growth mindset empowers both individuals and leaders. Courses like How to Be Successful: Create a Growth Mindset for Success teach you to define success on a personal level, embrace failure, and consistently practice visualization, paired with time management, to execute on long-term goals.
Growth Mindset for Leadership and Organizations is a Udemy course that empowers people leaders to become growth mindset ambassadors within their organizations. Lectures focus on the neuroscience of growth mindset, modeling growth mindset for your staff, and strategies to continuously nurture this trait in your direct reports.
“The World Economic Forum ranks creativity as the third most important skill [for] 2020 — a substantial jump from tenth place, where it was ranked a few years ago,” says Udemy instructor Josh Linkner. As a five-time start-up entrepreneur and $150m+ venture capital fundraiser, Josh knows that creativity is a powerful weapon for driving “new ideas, competitive advantages, and fully engaged teams.” However, only 1 in 4 employees feel they are meeting their creative potential, writes Josh in his blog.
How can you ensure you and your team are meeting this potential? Josh’s Udemy course, Disciplined Daydreaming: Leading Breakthrough Creativity at Work provides tangible solutions. Lectures include a creativity assessment, a framework for “disciplined daydreaming,” and a five-step plan to implement creativity within your professional life. With this structured approach to imagination, Josh takes the mystery out of creativity and introduces innovation into your work on a regular basis.
3. Focus mastery
Noisy offices, chatty co-workers, smartphone swiping — do these sound familiar? They were the biggest culprits of concentration loss in our 2018 Udemy Workplace Distraction Report.
Social media, office interaction, and working from home have made deep focus more challenging than ever, but when employees master this deep focus, the results are staggering. 75% of people feel more productive, 51% feel more confident, and 49% feel happier at work, according to our research.
In the Udemy course, Modern Productivity: Superhuman Focus in a Distracted World, Brad Merrill provides techniques to reach this coveted level of focus by motivating yourself, identifying peak hours of productivity, noting which distractions to avoid, and more.
Working Effectively From Home was one of our most popular Udemy courses in 2019, with the rise of remote employees seeking focus in their home environment. With tactics like setting boundaries, planning your day, and applying the science of motivation, Reinice Charles “provides concrete tools… to allow at-home workers of any experience level to set themselves up for success, [improving] daily functioning and output.”
In the last decade, innovation has gone from a mythical trait of geniuses to a necessary component that can make or break a company’s future (think Apple versus Nokia, Google versus AOL, Netflix versus Blockbuster).
To help keep companies ahead of the curve, Thomas Koulopoulos teaches enterprise-wide practices in his comprehensive Udemy course, Innovation Masterclass. Where does innovation fit, in a culture of economic volatility? What can we learn from the most innovative companies? How can leaders drive innovation internally? By addressing these questions and structuring innovation in the lens of his Five Immutable Laws, Thomas makes it easier to manifest original ideas consistently.
Another avenue of innovation that companies prioritized in 2019 was design thinking. Udemy instructor Laura Pickel writes in her blog, design thinking is “a human-centered approach to problem-solving that’s broken into five parts: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.”
As a seasoned UX designer at SAP, Laura innovates on a daily basis, while teaching the psychology of design at the Stanford Design School and IDEO. Her Udemy course, Design Thinking for Beginners: Develop Innovative Ideas, breaks each of these five components down into simple, applicable action items with activities and real-world examples. Her goal is to help anyone learn and apply design concepts, regardless of background or industry.
5. Communication skills
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reports that miscommunication can cost a company anywhere from $420,000 to $62 million.
“No matter how automated work and life become,” writes Udemy instructor Jennifer Hennings, “we have to communicate with each other to get things done. Whether [it’s] giving a formal presentation, making a sales call, sharing ideas in meetings, or navigating a ‘hallway ambush,’ [you] need to speak clearly and confidently to move business forward.”
As a public speaking coach, Jennifer knows about the dangers of communication breakdowns. Having coached executives at companies like Google and Apple, she knows that quality communication is as critical as it is coachable. Her Udemy course, Speak Like a Pro: Public Speaking for Professionals, helps transform learners into powerful, dynamic communicators, with lectures like “Analyzing Your Audience” and “Managing Your Speech Anxiety.”
Of course, verbal communication is only half of the equation. Written communication is a practice we engage in every day, but if we don’t have “confidence, clarity, and impact” in our writing, we can’t be effective, says Udemy instructor Dr. Elizabeth Goins. In her Udemy course Write Like a Boss: Master Your Business Writing Skills, Dr. Goins helps you discover your writing personality, adapt your message to your audience, and employ a three-part framework (Planning, Producing, Polishing) for creating polished business prose.
Not only is storytelling important on a business level, but it’s one of the four traits that are uniquely human, according to our Udemy Humanizing Learning report. It drove the evolution of our species and will continue to power our success in the age of automation.
“Research by cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests that stories are 20 times more memorable than facts alone. If you want people to remember your data and take action on it,” says Udemy instructor Jennifer Hennings, “you need to embed it in a powerful story, to make it more relatable to your audience.”
Jennifer’s Udemy course Speak Like a Pro: Public Speaking for Professionals teaches simple but effective practices for storytelling, like message clarity and “story banks.” By pairing the power of stories with confident speaking skills, learners can become memorable communicators on a public and personal level.
Continuing this thread of storytelling frameworks, award-winning documentary filmmaker Matt Livadary walks you through his perspective in his Udemy course Storytelling in the Digital Age.
His course teaches key foundations, like heroes and tension, that you can reference again and again. Matt uses pop culture references and engaging activities to help you reinforce your learning along the way (hint: Breaking Bad is in one of his lectures).
7. Culture awareness
“Our brains are bombarded with 11 million pieces of information at any given time, but we can only handle about 40,” says Gail Tolstoi-Miller. To avoid overload, we use mental filing cabinets for our experiences that can — and oftentimes do — fuel unconscious bias. “These types of biases are so ingrained in our culture and society that they often go unnoticed, particularly in terms of gender, age, and racial stereotyping.”
As the CEO of Consultnetworx — an organization addressing unconscious bias and diversity in corporate culture — Gail has made it her mission to “change the status quo.” Her course on Udemy, Unconscious Bias: Fuel Diversity and Become a Better You, raises awareness about preconceptions that block our personal and professional progress.
But it’s not enough to inform our internal perceptions. Our next step is to act on our awareness through culturally informed communication. Life Progression Projects’ Udemy course, Cross-Cultural Communication: How To Flex Your Style addresses this critical topic in a time of increasing globalization. By learning about the varied dynamics of family, society, and workplace attitudes across cultures, you’ll be able to understand communication styles across different backgrounds. Strengthen your personal and professional relationships by understanding social norms on a global level.
8. Critical thinking
Jen Lawrence, co-author of Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team, defines critical thinking as “the ability to solve problems effectively by gathering information about an issue, generating ideas [with] a variety of perspectives, evaluating the information using logic, and making sure everyone involved is on board.” Implementing this complex, but necessary practice avoids costly mistakes and unnecessary stress with thoughtful planning and informed execution.
Former philosophy professor Kevin deLaplante helps you achieve this in his Udemy course, Master Cognitive Biases and Improve Your Critical Thinking. By explaining different bias phenomenons like confirmation bias and pattern-seeking, Kevin unravels the obstacles to objective thinking. He provides helpful techniques for enhancing judgment in your professional and personal life.
According to Udemy instructors Marie Deveaux and Ron Carucci, there are measurable pitfalls to leaders who feel unprepared. Both instructors maintain that “50–70% of newly hired managers and executives fail at their new jobs… within 18 months.”
As an executive coach with an emphasis on diverse leaders, Marie Deveaux emphasizes that leadership preparation isn’t just good for the bottom line — it also creates a more inclusive community. In her Udemy course, The Essential Guide for Effective Managers, Marie weaves this critical value of inclusivity into her catch-all package of foundational skills for new leaders. Other topics include building rapport, situational leadership, communicating with impact, creating your leadership “brand,” and much more.
For the more seasoned leader, Ron Carucci delivers his years of expertise in Exceptional Leadership: Leading at a Higher Level. Ron addresses the common pitfalls of transitioning into a more senior role, like being misperceived or having to navigate changes in peer relationships due to career advancement. Through his own lens as an executive consultant and transformational leadership consultant, he highlights the four dimensions of the most effective leaders, such as choice and connection.
10. Emotional intelligence
As the COO of a remote digital consultancy group, James Baldwin hadn’t considered Emotional Intelligence (EQ) as central to employee training. But things changed when his company’s “rapid growth created the problem of horizontal communication — an issue that often arises when scaling expert teams. It wasn’t a language barrier, but it was… [an issue] of trust and shared understanding. Needing to find a way to quickly scale trust and purpose, we focused on EQ,” explains James in his recent guest blog on Udemy.
Once his employees took the suggested EQ courses on Udemy, the results were immediate. The Intellective team observed increased patience, more positive peer reviews, improved quality of work, and more willingness to collaborate in person.
In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, authors Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves found that 90% of top performers show high emotional intelligence. Udemy instructor Leila Bulling Towne has seen this success firsthand. “People with high EQ excel in various ways. Executives with high EQ are more likely to succeed than those with high IQ. Salespeople with high EQ sell more. Managers with high EQ have higher performing teams with less turnover,” says Leila in her blog.
As an executive coach, Leila works with leaders around the world on self-awareness, social skills, and relationship management. Each of these critical practices is explained in her Udemy course, Emotional Intelligence at Work: Learn From Your Emotions. The course features interactive components, like the “What’s Your Emotional Baggage?” exercise, where learners outline external pressures or worries affecting their reactions in the workplace.
Strengthening your soft skills for 2020 and beyond
Which of the top soft skills of 2020 stood out the most to you? Which ones will you prioritize?