IT careers 2020: Why empathy is a top skill

Move over tech skills: This valuable core skill will get IT teams through the toughest challenges of the decade ahead, experts say. Are you developing empathy skills?
336 readers like this.
digital transformation characters

As IT leaders think through their talent needs for the year ahead, one skill in particular is rising to the top. It’s not a hard tech skill, like machine learning or data science: It’s empathy.

Melissa Swift, leader for digital advisory at Korn Ferry, predicts that the need for people with empathy will only increase as technology continues to evolve. “As work gets more automated and more procedural work is done by technology, what you need from your human workers – and particularly your human leaders – is greater empathy. If you can really understand your end user, it gives you an edge. But populations that have grown up in a very process-driven, results oriented environment haven’t been exactly encouraged to grow the empathy muscle,” Swift notes in a recent report about IT talent from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.

The report states, “In the past, certain IT jobs could be done without interacting much with other people – the ‘just slide the pizza under the door’ jobs.” Those days are long gone. Now everyone in IT needs to accelerate their empathy quotient, Swift says in the report.

Empathy skills can help IT teams in a number of ways, such as preparing them for the AI age, assisting with design thinking approaches to problem-solving, and easing the transition to more agile ways of working.

“If you ever find yourself unable to understand why a person is acting a certain way, that is a sure-fire sign you need to work on your empathy skills,” said Robert Reeves, CTO of Datical, in a recent article. “As a former release manager, I saw this all the time. Developers constantly chaffed under operations’ demands; operations viewed development as petulant. Neither saw the other sides’ issues. Operations had to give up nights and weekends when releases went badly. Development was penalized by management when their release was delayed by operations. If both sides had more empathy, they could have easily built a bridge and gotten over these issues.”

Leaders who want to bring more empathy to their organizations should start with themselves. Core skills can be learned with ongoing practice and effort. “Just as reading a book on Kubernetes alone won’t make you an orchestration expert, reading up on interpersonal skills won’t grant you magical powers. In both cases, you’ll need to use what you’re learning,” wrote Kevin Casey in his article: Top soft skills for IT leaders and how to master them.

Download the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report, IT talent strategy: New tactics for a new era, to learn how leading CIOs are prioritizing core skills like empathy on their teams. Then check out our related article: Soft skills: 10 ways to hire for them.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.