With modern business strategy now placing a big emphasis on the customer experience and markets becoming increasingly competitive, soft skills are becoming more and more important to distinguish the best of the best. If we think of an organisation as a machine, of which people are an integral part; in order to keep it running this machine needs to be well-oiled and maintained. This is where soft skills come in: they are the foundations and the lubrication, the fundamental tools in a business that will keep it running smoothly. This may sound obvious and therefore easy to fix but in practice, these are often challenging areas to get right, and they shouldn’t be underestimated. As businesses grow and expand, these once-solid foundations tend to be the first areas to crack.
If you ask someone what makes a successful Manufacturing Engineer, you’re most likely to hear words like logical, scientific, practical or even IT/tech savvy. Those such as creative, communicative or innovative may follow but are less likely to be at the top of the list. Nevertheless, it is these soft skills, those attributes outside of formal qualifications or technical expertise that will be the key to the future manufacturing enterprise. You can have all the technical expertise in the world but without the skills to creatively problem-solve, think laterally, empathise with end-user needs, develop, communicate and deliver new ideas, sustained growth becomes very difficult.
A common business hurdle is knowing how to control the fuzzy front end of Innovation. You want to make changes to your business model, create new products or services, but you have either too many ideas, or too few. You can’t decide which ideas to take to the next step, and actually, you may be even wondering, “What is the next step?” Do you have a system for testing and failing? Do you have an Innovation strategy that directs whether you’re focussing on incremental, adjacent or radical Innovation? How do you move forward if everyone is working to a different plan, goal, process or timeframe? This fuzzy front end of Innovation can leave you effectively paralysed.
Fortunately, as well as their fundamental role in securing robust and streamlined innovation processes for everyone to follow, effective soft skills can also themselves open up a host of opportunities. When people feel in control of the ‘fuzzies’ and have an Innovation process, problem solving and lateral thinking are free to prosper. This creates an invaluable source of Innovation.
James Dyson, of the now infamous Dyson brand, is a prime example of this, having developed his revolutionary cyclone technology because he was fed up of loss of suction in traditional vacuum cleaners. He continues to look for unsolved problems such as buffeting fans and hand dryers. Problem-solving & customer empathy therefore, is a great source for continual Innovation within a business.
As an end-user focused process, Design-Thinking is another must-have soft skill for Manufacturers. Being able to truly understand your customers or end users, their challenges and problems not only builds prosperous relationships but identifies new opportunities to disrupt the market.
To then bring this insight onto the shop floor and ensure delivery is likewise less about technical prowess and more about understanding the Innovation process, creating a Culture of Innovation and having additional soft skills, such as leadership and communication, to increase its speed and success.
This new age of Manufacturing brings with it new expectations for employees and end-users alike. We need to be able to predict the future, think creatively and act quickly with insight, agility and confidence. We need to be rich in softer skills such as Design Thinking, Creative Problem Solving and Innovation. Ultimately, it is these skills that will ensure manufacturers grow and prosper.
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