With digital transformation initiatives in throttle across many South African organisations, a vital cog that many often overlook is to nurture soft skills to make their strategies pay off.

Digital transformation is the process whereby companies embed technologies across their businesses to drive fundamental change. These processes have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as most companies adopted remote and hybrid working models.

According to consultancy firm Accenture, the benefits of digital transformation include increased efficiency, greater business agility, and, ultimately, the unlocking of new value for employees, customers, and shareholders.

However, organisations risk missing out on the benefits of digital transformation if they neglect harnessing soft skills.

As per Gartner, technology skills are no longer highly centred in IT; they need to be “marbled” across organisational functions and businesses and coupled with soft skills to achieve transformation success.

It adds that most companies are flying “data blind” with regard to the skills they need for transformation.

Hope Lukoto, chief human resource officer at BCX, says soft skills are a set of interpersonal and character traits that enable individuals to effectively navigate social interactions, work collaboratively, communicate clearly, and adapt to various situations in both personal and professional settings.

Unlike hard skills, which are specific technical or job-related abilities, soft skills are more universal and often contribute to an individual’s overall success and effectiveness in various aspects of life, she notes.

In order to achieve a more well-rounded skill set, whether individually or within a team, it’s crucial to recognise the importance of incorporating soft skills alongside technical expertise in the tech industry. These soft skills play a pivotal role in supporting technical knowledge and propelling digital transformation efforts.

While hard skills, such as data analytics, software development etc., are indispensable for ensuring the development of robust technology, it’s equally critical to combine these with the soft skills required to lead collaborative solutions and facilitate change as a cohesive team.

Without this combination, Lukoto says, the outcomes are likely to fall short of their full potential.

Among the plethora of benefits for soft skills, as organisations forge ahead with their digital transformation journeys is effective communication on why the company is implementing such a strategy.

Soft skills like effective communication and active listening enable employees to convey their ideas, needs, and concerns clearly and understand the viewpoints of others. This fosters a culture of open dialogue, which is crucial for implementing digital changes seamlessly.

Change management is also another benefit, as soft skills such as adaptability, resilience, and the ability to manage as well as cope with change help employees and teams navigate the often-disruptive nature of digital transformation initiatives. They can ease the transition and reduce resistance to change.

Digital transformation often involves cross-functional teams working together, hence soft skills like collaboration, teamwork, and conflict resolution are essential for building productive working relationships and ensuring that diverse teams can function harmoniously.

It can sometimes lead to conflicts and disagreements, thus soft skills related to conflict resolution can help address these issues constructively, preventing them from derailing the transformation process.

Additionally, soft skills also spur problem-solving and innovation. Soft skills like critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving are essential for identifying and addressing the challenges and roadblocks that arise during digital transformation. They can lead to innovative solutions and more efficient processes.

Lukoto also points to leadership skills as another crucial soft skill that is imperative for digital transformation. She emphasises that leadership skills are crucial at all levels of an organisation during digital transformation.

“Effective leaders can inspire and motivate their teams, set a clear vision, and guide the organisation through the changes,” she says.

Soft skills such as empathy and emotional intelligence also help organisations understand and respond to the needs and preferences of their customers, which is often a key driver of digital transformation initiatives.

The other soft skill worth mentioning relates to time management and prioritisation which helps employees juggle multiple tasks and deadlines associated with digital transformation projects.

For soft skills to be honed among employees, training is the answer.

According to SPER Market Research, the global soft skills training market is estimated to reach $85.98 billion by 2032 with a CAGR of 12.49%.

Soft skills training is the process of acquiring and enhancing non-technical talents or personal characteristics that allow people to connect effectively with others on the job or in their personal lives.

It notes that communication, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, time management, emotional intelligence, flexibility, creativity, and critical thinking are examples of soft skills that need to be nurtured.

Individuals can find value in soft skills training, enabling them to nurture and apply these abilities effectively across diverse contexts.

“In summary, soft skills complement technical expertise in digital transformation by promoting effective communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and adaptability. They contribute to the overall success of digital initiatives by ensuring that people are equipped to work together, embrace change, and maximise the benefits of new technologies and processes,” Lukoto concludes.