Leaders who are willing to change direction based on women’s input are more than twice as likely to tap into winning ideas. This research is from a Harvard Business Review study called How Women Drive Innovation and Growth.
Think about it. Today’s workforce now demands that strong company culture and thriving workplaces be at the centre of an organization’s focus. Why? Because culture is a company’s brand, its value proposition, its recruitment and retention strategy and its profit driver. And women are often the catalyst for this focus, largely because of the “soft skills” these vibrant cultures demand – the same skills that for decades were dismissed as unnecessary, largely by men.
Two recent studies of the workplace performed by Google underscore the imperative of soft skills.
In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, “hard skills” expertise came in dead last.
The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all “soft skills” such as being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
Project Aristotle, a study also released by Google, further supports the importance of soft skills. Looking to understand the characteristics of their best teams, in 2012 Google studied over 180 of them and produced fascinating results. Among the conclusions: it’s not the smartest people who make the best team; it’s the ones who demonstrate equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of teammates, empathy and emotional intelligence.
One example of a woman exemplifying these crucial soft skills (and in an old-school industry) is Danielle Allan of Allan Financial. Allan, who is a millennial, a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, and the daughter of Allan Financial president Ross Allan, has the credentials to be playing in the dusty insurance industry. But she also has the soft skills to change the trajectory of the family business in a way that is causing some industry waves.
As the company’s heir apparent and director of finance and operations, Danielle Allan has initiated the launch of its paperless office, spearheaded a corporate social responsibility campaign that, within three years, has lent nearly $600,000 to female entrepreneurs around the world, brought in team players to introduce video storytelling and tapped into new technology to better manage the complicated vagaries of life insurance products.
She has also implemented sophisticated customer relationship management tools and initiated empathy training for her staff. If all that wasn’t enough, this year she is also working to obtain B Corp certification for Allan Financial.
Most family businesses struggle with change management – especially when the original formula was successful. So how has Allan managed to expand an all-women team of 10 to become one of the leading life insurance companies in Canada?
By using the “soft skills” of emotional intelligence and leading with purpose to champion for change.
The numbers don’t lie. Want a change agent? You’ll do well by hiring a woman. •
Casey Miller (casey@sixandahalf consulting.com), president of Six and a Half Consulting, is a leadership and team development specialist. His consultancy teaches organizations the skills needed to create motivated and inspired workplaces.