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Ordinary People Taking Action
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In 20 years coaching professionals, I’ve learned that the biggest impact in determining career success is the development of “soft skills”. Without question, the functional knowledge of a job is important, but if we don’t succeed at making human connections at work, that’s usually a deal breaker.
I believe you can tell a lot about how a company views the importance of their employees by:
Over the years, the term “soft skills” has taken on a negative association. Maybe because the term is overused. Maybe because the impact of these skills isn’t measurable. Or maybe because we haven’t yet discovered the key to developing them. Whatever the reason, those who fail to establish “soft skills” struggle in their careers. I know this to be true.
I spend a lot of my time talking to professionals about employee and leadership development and one question always comes up. How will the program I am recommending positively impact the business? For the longest time, I struggled in answering this question. I was trying to produce some crazy ROI calculation that measured back to the actual profit of the business. Lately, I’ve stopped worrying so much about finding the right answer and instead, I’ve started speaking from what I know to be true.
At the end of the day, no matter how automated our jobs are or how much technology dominates our working lives, we are still people. While businesses need to be profitable to sustain, businesses need people even more. Otherwise, no one is there to troubleshoot when technology doesn’t perform as planned. No one is there to build the platform or write the code. No one is there when a human simply needs to talk to another human. So, when someone asks me, “What positive impact will your program have to my business?” I respond, “Without this program, what will the negative impact be?”
If the potential client can’t envision this negative impact, I’ve learned that they aren’t the right client for me. That might sound harsh, but developing people starts with people wanting to develop. The work my program requires isn’t work that can be forced on anyone.
Recently, I sent a proposal to a potential client, Martha, who responded by saying that I wanted too much money and she didn’t see the value in spending that much. When I stay grounded, it’s easier for me to confidently respond that I don’t believe my programs are too expensive and that the value is retaining and developing their employees. I am getting better at not taking no personally – and not becoming defensive.
I asked Martha what she thought the appropriate investment should be for the executive leadership program I was proposing. Her response? “A third of what you’re charging.” I did the math quickly in my head. After hard costs and taxes, and before factoring in my time, her suggested rate would produce a negative cash flow. I responded, “Thank you. We don’t see eye-to-eye and unfortunately I can’t lower my price by that much.” It was the hardest thing to walk away.
Two weeks later, Martha contacted me and said that her top employee, Shelley, had just given notice. Shelley is her senior director, her right-hand in many ways. I asked why Shelley was leaving and Martha replied, “Because she doesn’t feel valued or confident that there are advancement opportunities and because the company doesn’t seem to put employee development as a priority.”
My response: “What do you think about Shelley’s answer?”
“Well, we do focus on our employees – we give hefty annual bonuses, plan team building activities and offer flexible schedules.”
My question back: “Are those development opportunities that will impact advancement within the company?”
After a long pause, Martha asked if I could resend my proposal for the executive leadership program.
A few days passed before Martha called me. “When I review this proposal, it’s all about competencies related to relationship and task. It seems to focus on all that “soft-skill-stuff” that I always feel is not impactful for the business.”
Although learning to accept quiet space is a development of mine, I stayed quiet on the phone.
“When I asked Shelley what she thought about your proposal, Shelley said it was great – exactly the type of development that she wants – and wishes we would invest in more of these types of programs”
I asked, “What are your thoughts?”
Martha responded, “Well, I can’t afford to lose another Shelley, so let’s give it a shot.”
The program is scheduled.
What I also know to be true is that often, my hardest sells end up being my best workshops. I am looking forward to working with this team in the coming months.
Want to learn more about this leadership development program? Reach out. I will be happy to talk with you.