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Human experiences build trust

Technology not the only tool for success in a digital business world

I may be a Millennial, but I can see why older workers want to throw their hands up in despair sometimes.

All that talk about disruption, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) - you might as well be talking in code. Literally.

Traditional methods of working that they have known for decades are being replaced quicker than they can keep up. A future that they once could make sense of and plan with relative certainty has become one big, scary unknown.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard calls for workers to "embrace technology" or be "adaptable". Good as those intentions are, it can appear somewhat patronising.

People are not unaware of the changing tide and the urgency to upgrade. Too often, it is not due to a lack of motivation. Rather, where the heck do they begin?

Should they learn some coding? Data analytics? Blockchain? Or perhaps some advanced Excel for a start? It's a maelstrom out there. No wonder it ends up in analysis paralysis.

Most people are all too aware of their own abilities and limitations. Especially for those who are not digital natives, just learning new operating systems in the workplace is enough to make them sweat.

To top it off, after all that effort and anxiety in learning a new technology, it becomes outdated and they have to start again from scratch. It can get overwhelming.

It is a digital world, no doubt, and those who are slower to learn are falling behind. As a result, older workers - even my parents - tell me ruefully that they are no longer relevant. This loss in confidence is affecting an entire generation.

But while the emphasis of today is on technology-related skills, I argue there are a whole host of other skills that might be less sexy to talk about, but are every bit as important.

The very human ability to manage, mentor, negotiate and empathise - these are factors that can also make a real impact in the workplace, but are often neglected or dismissed as common sense.

Ironically, despite the whirlwind of new technologies that are emerging, experts say that the human touch has become more prized than ever before.

Mr Sanjay Modi, managing director, APAC & Middle East at Monster.com, says: "If I look at business today, what differentiates one successful company from another is the people they hire. Technology can handle the IQ part, but not the EQ part.

"What is important is that people need to have strong teamwork, open communication skills and participative decision making."

HUMAN CONNECTION

Ultimately, organisations will do well to recognise that it is the human connection that is able to build trust in consumers and clients. Technology may increase productivity or revolutionise workflows, but it is still a tool. Robots alone cannot build trust.

Machines can think logically and predict things based on algorithms to perform tasks, but it can't think beyond the perimeters you set for it. Mr Modi believes that domain experience will always trump technology.

"In Singapore, I understand that there has been a lot of news in the media about new kinds of code and AI. Yes, if you are in the IT sector, you need to learn all these. But for the rest of us, you just need to adapt the technology you need for your day-to-day business. Your fundamentals remain the same."

It's about having a deep understanding of your business, and what it needs in order for you to leverage on technology effectively. If not, you just appear as someone mouthing off buzzwords without a true understanding of how your line of work can benefit.

Tech savvy or not, the only requirement for all of us is to have an open mind to explore, learn and judge if new methods of working work. Not everything that is trending is useful, but we must at least find out what's out there and try it out.

No one is denying that going digital is the way forward. But let's not forget that this needs to be accompanied by fundamental soft skills to navigate this growing complexity. Building deep relationships and trust will never become irrelevant or less important.

Not all of us will become digital ninjas, but we all still add something different to the table. What matters is that we get better than yesterday. Learn new skills - be they hard or soft - for the sake of your growth and development, not because it's the latest IT thing.

This article was published in The Business Times Weekend May 20-21.

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