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New Research on the Top Skills for Success at Work

June 29, 2021

In my previous blog, I talked about how the pandemic and other events in the last 18 months will likely leave some long-lasting changes, on top of major disruptions that were already happening through accelerating digitalization (termed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” by Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum). I also shared some key challenges arising from these changes, which people will need to respond, learn, and adapt to in the reshaped world of work.

These challenges create important questions about the key behaviors and success criteria that will be most important in the reshaped world of work – how might this change from what we have seen before and what new themes are emerging?New Research on the Top Skills for Success at Work

As part of our work with organizations around the world, at PSI we have been keen to explore this question and consider how organizational competency frameworks might need to evolve to ensure your workforce is prepared. We wanted to differentiate competencies that were imperative to have in the past compared to what we identified as top skills for success at work.

Important competencies from the last decade

To begin with and establish some context for our research, we started by looking back at the previous decade to identify competencies that appeared to be particularly relevant. We analyzed a global data set of 10,286 360 feedback assessments conducted between 2010 to 2020. These were from different organizations and industry sectors that had used competencies from our existing PSI library. From this data set, we identified the top seven competencies most frequently used in these assessments (note: we selected seven purely as a manageable and memorable number to work with). Due to the nature of 360 feedback, these will mainly reflect competencies used for management development, but this data still provides a useful indicator of important competencies that we can contrast with the next decade.


Predicting critical competencies for success in the future

Looking ahead to the next decade is of course much more challenging than looking back. When we make predictions of the future, they are just that – educated opinions of what might happen, but not a certainty. In particular, the last 18 months have served as a reminder of how quickly things can change in a drastic way. However, we can make these predictions as informed as possible by considering global trends and the emerging demands on organizations and people, as well as the impact of the pandemic.

To inform our analysis, we reviewed a wide range of studies and white papers that have considered how global trends are likely to impact jobs and workforce skills. We focused on substantial research in this area within the last five years from think tanks, industry bodies, research institutes, and global consultancies. For example some notable, thought provoking insights in this area have been published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Institute for the Future, among others. These reports particularly emphasize how the rise of automation and globalization is likely to drive a change in important skills and competencies. In addition, evidence suggests the pandemic is likely to have accelerated these trends, according to the WEF Future of Jobs Report and also a recent analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute on the future of work after Covid-19. The recurring themes we identified across these various studies and reports are that, over the next decade, people will need to:

  • Deal with cognitive complexity and learn on the fly.
  • Embrace new technologies and automation.
  • Draw more on their social and emotional skills – areas which are less open to automation and will be even more in demand as we adjust to a post-pandemic "new norm" of hybrid working across many sectors and geographies.
  • Manage themselves personally to cope and adjust in response to accelerating change.

Reflecting on these four themes, we then identified seven foundational and critical competencies from our PSI library that together should enable people to respond to these demands and achieve sustainable success in 2021's reshaped world of work:


Businesses are eager to get back to some sort of normalcy – as many of us are as well. As we move forward in the coming months, let’s use the lessons from the past year to help us shift our focus to the newly identified top skills for success at work.

To read more about these top seven competencies that we anticipate could rise to prominence over the next decade, please click below to download our research report.

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Dan Hughes Dan Hughes is the Director of International R&D at PSI. Dan has a passion for evidence-based psychology and helping organizations to improve employee performance and well-being. He has worked for several HR consultancies and has 23 years’ experience in the research, design, implementation, and evaluation of psychology solutions for business. Over his career, he has developed a wide variety of different psychometric tools spanning volume hiring, talent assessment, leadership, and people development.