Global Pro Bono and the “Human Touch”

Five skills necessary to survive in the 4th industrial revolution

It’s fair to say that a majority of jobs in industrialized economies today require some proficiency in Microsoft Office and other elementary computer skills. However, don’t be surprised when the next job description you see includes creativity or high emotional intelligence leading the list of required skills.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold of global business and advances such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and biotechnology become the norm, where does humanity fit in? In a world that is seemingly becoming too intelligent for us, the human touch remains valuable and necessary to counterbalance the rising tide of technological change.

The skills to succeed in the workplace and remain relevant will look vastly different in the future. People working in IT need strong technical skills and knowledge of technological installation and maintenance, yet in the coming years, they will also be expected to have “human skills” such as critical thinking, problem solving, and adaptability to stay employable for the long-term.

While 38 percent of companies say it is difficult to train in-demand technical skills, 43 percent find it harder to teach soft skills such as analytical thinking and communication. The demand for such soft skills will grow across all industries by 26 percent in the United States and 22 percent in Europe by 2030. In a recent article, the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlighted the key skills that will “future proof” careers in an increasingly automated workplace, calling out 10 human skills that machines are unable to replace. Many of these are cognitive social skills, typically developed through experiential rather than classroom learning.

While 38 percent of companies say it is difficult to train in-demand technical skills, 43 percent find it harder to teach soft skills such as analytical thinking and communication.

One avenue to create such a learning environment for employees is Global Pro Bono, or skills-based volunteering. Through Global Pro Bono programs, employees provide professional services to social mission-driven clients, often in communities in which they do not live or work on a regular basis. During time-bound and deliverable-based engagements, participants acquire global leadership competencies, enhance their ability to manage and operate on diverse teams, communicate across cultures, and operate in challenging environments.

One avenue to create such a learning environment for employees is Global Pro Bono, or skills-based volunteering.

 

According to PYXERA Global’s State of the Practice Report, which surveyed 26 companies from diverse industries that implement Global Pro Bono programs, one of the top reasons why companies invest in these programs is to benefit employees, which includes the development of transferable skills and competencies. Many of the skills fostered through the Global Pro Bono experience are the same as those highlighted by the WEF as necessary to thrive in the digital revolution. The five most notable skills are highlighted below.

CREATIVITY
Surveys indicate that 69 percent of Global Pro Bono participants reported new ideas at work following their experience. By collaborating with innovative, mission-driven organizations, Global Pro Bono provides corporate participants an avenue to explore their creativity, which can easily be lost in their day-to-day jobs.

As part of EY’s skills-based volunteering program called Vantage, employee participants work with social entrepreneurs to scope and refine their projects. Kristen Gold, Assistant Director on the EY Americas Corporate Responsibility team, stated that scope of work development inspires increased innovation upon participants’ return to their day jobs. She cited an example in which an EY Vantage participant “created a tool for the entrepreneur and talked with his manager about building that up further and offering it to clients.”

PEOPLE MANAGEMENT
Global Pro Bono programs inherently challenge participants to grow as leaders, prompting many companies to frame their programs in the context of leadership development. Johanna Söderström, Senior HR Executive at The Dow Chemical Company commented, “Since 2013, we have been using this type of approach to develop next generation leaders at Dow. Through our Leadership in Action program, we knew of the power of inspiring leaders through combining skills-based service and leadership development.”

Upon their return, Global Pro Bono participants feel personally motivated to serve as leaders in their company. “In that different setting, I reflected about my job at home, and it made me more grateful, more mindful about my work. We really had to focus on the project in Ghana to make an impact in four weeks. I am much more focused on results at work now–and the impact in our work. You can lead better when you are convinced of the value of the work you do. It has improved my leadership—my ability to pull other colleagues with me and motivate them,” explained Marie Bonesire, Senior Controller at SAP.

I am much more focused on results at work now–and the impact in our work. You can lead better when you are convinced of the value of the work you do. It has improved my leadership—my ability to pull other colleagues with me and motivate them.

Global Pro Bono participants are also acknowledged by their peers as leaders in the workplace. GSK, for example, reported that 71 percent of colleagues agree that returned participants take on increased leadership responsibilities immediately after PULSE.

TEAMWORK AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Global Pro Bono assignments are often the first or only time employees from different geographies will engage in person. Companies also commonly ensure diversity among experience levels and areas of business by bringing together teams that include junior staff, management, HR professionals, and IT experts. Although they take part in rigorous pre-work before their departure, Global Pro Bono participants don’t physically meet each other until they arrive in their project location. When the team finally meets face-to-face, their first priority is immediate team building with no assigned leader, with the ultimate goal of collaboratively completing their scope of work in just a few weeks.

PYXERA Global’s Common Performance Indicator Report shows that 80 percent of participants reported improved teamwork and collaboration skills, while 74 percent reported improved communication skills. These numbers align with insights from WEF, which claim that communication and team collaboration skills “will be a top demand among job candidates in any industry.”

COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY AND SERVICE ORIENTATION
Although listed as two separate skills by the WEF, development of increased cognitive flexibility and service orientation occur simultaneously on a Global Pro Bono project. The WEF defines cognitive flexibility as the “ability to switch between different personas to accommodate the challenge at hand” while service orientation is the skill of knowing the importance of offering value to clients in the form of services and assistance. Global Pro Bono accomplishes both as participants transform from corporate employees to consultants, offering value to their client in just a matter of weeks.

Through pre-assignment training, which often takes the form of weekly calls, participants are equipped with knowledge and tools related to the social sector, consulting techniques, cultural agility, and more to prepare for a change in mindset. These tools allow them to make the shift from employee to consultant. Not only do Global Pro Bono participants learn how to shift personas, they also gain valuable experience in consulting, with 66 percent claiming improved consulting skills after their assignment.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Since the first Global Pro Bono State of the Practice survey in 2010, 29 companies have sent 13,319 employees to 109 countries across six continents. Global Pro Bono allows participants to step outside their comfort zones and immerse themselves in a culture that differs largely from their own. Directly exposed to cultural nuances and different ways of life, participants not only learn to accept the differences around them but also relate to their surroundings, building on the qualities of empathy and curiosity that WEF has identified as increasingly important in the new age of automation.

Directly exposed to cultural nuances and different ways of life, participants not only learn to accept the differences around them but also relate to their surroundings, building on the qualities of empathy and curiosity that WEF has identified as increasingly important in the new age of automation.

Emotional intelligence also overlaps with cultural awareness, the ability to relate to and communicate with individuals from other cultures. Global Pro Bono participants build upon their cultural awareness each day while on assignment. One SAP Social Sabbatical participant in Hyderabad, India, for example, noticed children crossing their arms before asking or answering a question. Although the participant initially interpreted this as a sign of reservation, he later learned, accepted, and internalized that it was actually a sign of respect.

With the connection between the skills participants gain during a Global Pro Bono assignment and the WEF-identified skills required to thrive during the digital revolution, it is clear that Global Pro Bono can strengthen the foundation of our workforce. The private sector has a critical hand in building future talent and fostering a generation of up-skilled workers, and Global Pro Bono is a strong tool to achieve this end. Companies that are implementing Global Pro Bono programs are ahead of the curve, building capacity within their employees to produce profound change for the workforce, and training them to have that “human touch” society will need.

 

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