Empathy Bellies at Work? - American Society of Employers - Heather Nezich

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Empathy Bellies at Work?

Empathy is hard to learn and nearly impossible to teach.  It’s a skill that is part of the national workforce’s soft skills gap that is continuing to widen.  But some companies, like Ford, are developing new creative ways to bridge this skills gap.

Ford utilizes empathy bellies to train their engineers to be empathetic of diverse drivers such as pregnant woman or the elderly.  These groups experience physical limitations that the average person often does not consider.  Once strapped into the weighted suits, automotive engineers get into the car, put on the seat belt, adjust the mirrors, adjust audio and air controls, etc. in order to experience all the challenges and physical limitations that pregnant and elderly drivers might experience.  They also utilize ear muffs and glasses to simulate a loss of hearing and eye sight in the elderly.

Ford has realized the direct connection between empathizing with customers and corporate success.  Katie Allanson, an ergonomics specialist who leads Ford’s new hire training, says that the company’s vehicle features have improved over the last decade since the first weighted garments were used because engineers can now “empathize with their customers.”  “That’s a direct result of our engineers thinking about universal design, having that awareness of different populations, different age groups, different users, and thinking about that when they’re designing features,” says Allanson.

Aside from literal empathy training like Ford has implemented, it’s also important to hire with diversity and inclusion in mind and ask questions that will help you identify a candidate’s soft skills.  Empathic thinking would be easier to come by if a larger mix of diversity existed on a regular basis.  As Lou Adler, CEO Adler Group and Author of Hire with Your Head and The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired , writes, “Take a good, hard look at your current hiring process, identify its flaws and biases and think about ways to attract the empathetic, diverse leaders you want.”

Soft skills can be extremely challenging to screen for during the interview process, but it is important to not overlook them.  According to Adecco Staffing USA 44% of executives said a lack of soft skills was the biggest proficiency gap they saw in the U.S. Workforce.  67% of HR managers said they’d hire a candidate with strong soft skills even if his or her technical abilities were lacking, while just 9% would hire someone with strong technical credentials but weak soft skills, according to a report from the International Association of Administrative Professionals, OfficeTeam and HR.com.

Managers that incorporate a range of soft skills into their leadership approach can increase productivity by as much as 30%.  It makes people feel valued and rewarded, which are contributing factors to employee engagement. 

So how do you identify a candidates soft skills strengths?  Some recommend testing to accomplish this.  Edward D. Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, states, “Analytics and testing will be important to hiring and developing growth.”  There are a variety of tools available that measure traits such as humility, empathy, emotional intelligence, problem solving skills and compassion.  “Are you going to hire someone with a high narcissist score when you want humility?” he asks.

Beyond testing, it’s important to ask the right type of questions during the interview process.  Some examples are:

Question:  What’s the one thing that gives you inspiration and motivation to come to work every day?

By asking this question you can determine whether candidates enjoy challenges and if they are a team player or not.

Question:  Tell me about the most difficult project you’ve ever worked on and how you managed all of the elements required to execute it to completion.

This question will tell you about the candidate’s organizational skills, ability to multi-task and manage time.  It will also give you a glimpse into how they communicate and think.

Question:  Tell me about the last time you had to learn a new task. How did you go about learning it? What, if any tools, did you employ?

This will help you identify their ability and willingness to learn new skills.

Question:  Tell me about the last time a manager rejected one of your ideas. How did you react to his/her feedback?

Asking this will help to identify one’s intellectual humility, ability to take criticism and influencing skills.

Question:  Describe a time when you had to deliver difficult news. How did you go about it?

How a candidate goes about delivering bad news has a direct correlation to how well they are able to adapt and understand situations from another point of view.

Businesses today need to maintain a competitive edge and to do so must hire employees with the ability to be innovative and think differently.  Although technical hard skills are important, they must possess “human” skills to propel their teams forward.  The ability to think critically about the future and collaborate effectively will inevitably lead to success.


Sources:  HR Today, LinkedIn.com


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