The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff
Where long-term growth really comes from.
My friend, Brett, recently told me how much he enjoys my newsletter! He also commented, "One thing I've noticed — you're focusing more on the soft stuff." I thought about it for a moment, and then agreed, saying, "Yes, and that's likely because I find the great majority of my work — and my success — come from 'soft stuff' such as networking with referral sources, meeting with prospects, and leading staff." Brett agreed, saying his experience matched mine.
That got me thinking — if Brett's and my experiences are true, and I certainly believe they are, why don't more people pay attention to the soft stuff? Back in the office, I pulled out Alan Webber's excellent book, Rules of Thumb, and flipped through to find this chapter — "Rule #26 — The soft stuff is the hard stuff." In this chapter, the author shares many comments on handling people — several resonated with me.
The first was "Success in business is all about your people and how you treat them... Jim Collins concluded that talent drives financial performance: who's on the bus, who's off the bus, and who sits where on the bus is ultimately more important that where the bus is going." (Page 125). While one could provide "hard evidence" for this "soft assertion" through something like the Balanced Scorecard (BSC), I believe its truth is obvious. Indeed, I hire for attitude and aptitude, and then develop specific competencies around a person's natural talents.
Leading for the Long-Term
My staff knows I'm leading them and running the firm for the long-term — I've intuitively adopted the long-term perspective underlying the BSC. The author explains this quite well — "We know that in the long run leaders who treat their people well will outperform leaders who terrorize and exploit their people and create toxic organizations. That's in the long run. In the short run it's easier to go for the money." (Page 127). Let me give you an example. I know of a person — let's call him "Marvin" — who recently decided to "go for the money," taking a very short run and selfish approach which financially hurt a service provider. Will Marvin's greed and arrogance ever have their comeuppance? More than likely, because such qualities —universally shunned, and justifiably so — will come out in front of other people, who will avoid him. Marvin's "hard skills"? Outstanding. People skills? Incredibly poor.
Marvin perfectly illustrates one final comment — "Numbers are easy and people are hard. We can control numbers but not people." (Page 126). Person A cannot change Person B — Person B will only change if and when he or she decides to do so. Sure, managers can provide rewards and consequences to promote certain behaviors, and they can work in the short run — yet, extrinsic motivators are never as powerful or lasting as intrinsic motivators are. The statement "I can only change me" is undeniably true.
Since business success ultimately depends on making money, the question is not whether to make money, but how to make it. The book suggests two tasks.
Work Life You Want
First, ask yourself, "What kind of work life do I want?" If you are a manager or supervisor, are you able to emulate the best boss you ever had? If you are a staff member, look at the work life you want — do you have it? If you can't find or create your desired leadership or work life in your current company, perhaps it is time to look elsewhere.
Second, contemplate the math and numbers aspects of making money. Tyrannical leaders work from this assumption — managing for money will produce better results, because the ends justify the means. Leaders building for the long run know better — in reality, better means create better ends. I liken the different approaches to trying to harvest without having planted, versus planting and then harvesting. Farmers know they can't take shortcuts — leaders and managers would do well to follow their example.
Of course, the kicker is this — anyone who requires "hard evidence" that long-term business success stems from treating people well will likely never understand the importance of soft skills. Whether it is treating employees well, being fair to vendors, or cheerfully serving clients and customers, the only way business is ever transacted is through ... people. Success in business (and life) requires soft skills — unfortunately, too many people develop their hard skills, while forgetting their soft skills. No doubt about it — the soft stuff is the hard stuff.
Todd L. Herman
Client Project Update:
I am pleased to provide you with an update on our client projects. Projects we have completed over this period are...
Resolving Post-Upgrade ERP System Issues
Researched and documented post-upgrade system and reporting issues, and worked with the system vendor to ensure corrections were made and placed in production, helping our client identify items covered by the vendors support agreement.
Enhancing ERP Project Management Capabilities
Design and develop project management and actual-vs-plan reporting capabilities to enhance this ERP system's manufacturing, planning and scheduling module, enabling this engineered-to-order company better schedule jobs, technicians, and machines.
Assessing Configurations for Collaboration and Messaging Systems
Worked with our client to review the current configuration of various messaging and database products, both individually and in tandem, helping a new administrator quickly learn how to manage these business-critical systems while identifying changes to improve performance and reliability.
Assess System Needs & Determine Options for Start-up Company
Documented the current and desired business process, and identified the information to be collected, helping our client articulate a clear vision of systems needed to support a rapidly growing startup, and determining options to implement this.
Developing Consumer-Centric Reporting Options
Worked closely with our clients and key users of their customers to make our clients' services more useful by creatively presenting accurate and jargon-free information to the ultimate consumers of the services, helping consumers make better decisions on an important part of their lives.
Extend & Enhance Executive Dashboard
Enhanced this client's data warehouse and related dashboard by incorporating financial information into the operations statistics and protecting this information using Kerberos-based dimensional security, improving executives' ability to correlate operations decisions and financial results, while limiting other users' access to information.
Synchronizing Active Directory & Domino via Tivoli Directory Integrator
Installed, configured, and deployed Tivoli Directory Integrator to synchronize user information between Active Directory (AD) and IBM Domino, helping this client simplify system administration, while keeping the single sign on (SSO) ease of use AD, and the tight security and robustness of Domino.
Future projects we are planning include...
Enhance Investment Allocation Method
Rewrite this foundation's Excel-based calculation and allocation of investment results among the various restricted funds, simplifying the annual process to prepare for a new year, eliminating multiple independent calculations causing differences between sheets, and resolving prior year calculation inconsistencies.
Implement Unique Business Model for Start-up Company
Develop the functional requirements for a custom-developed application, ensure this matched our client's envisioned process flow and user interface, define overall database structures and fields, and simultaneously develop this application's front-end and back-end, helping implement our client's unique business model within two months.
Business Needs Guide System Selection
Launch and begin to manage the effort to identify key business and user needs for an up-to-date ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system to replace an out-of-date system, providing objective advice to help this engineer-to-order (ETO) light manufacturer understand its true needs and assess its options.
Recertifying EDI Document Processing by Vendors
Plan and begin to conduct the steps needed to test vendor revisions to their EDI document processing to handle new purchase order (PO) and advance ship notice (ASN) documents from our client, helping ensure supply chain continuity as our client transitions from two older business systems to a modern ERP system.
Customizing User Presentations of Consumer-Centric Reporting
Develop the detailed processing and data storage requirements to provide custom reporting options at the individual employee level for our client's customers, helping the consumer-facing employees tailor information presentation to be more easily understood by the ultimate consumer.