Return on investment
How to make people realize that the apparently ‘soft’ can be ‘hard’ as well?
When we’re asked to help companies explore and design the future we mostly stay on board to guide them through the transformation process that follows. Often this requires additional expertise in different fields, like financial experts to quantify the new business direction, copywriters to help develop an engaging narrative and trainers to encourage behavioral change. Realizing transformation is a team effort.
However, not all team members seem to be valued equally. It starts with the fees; consultants with the more left-brain ‘hard skills’ like business strategy and accounting charge higher daily fees than consultants with the more right-brain ‘soft skills’ such as coaching, concepting and communication. But not only that, in conversations with CEO’s we often find that the additional ‘hard skills’ are regarded as an investment and the ‘soft skills’ as a cost. Therefor we often have a harder time selling the need for additional right brain - creative and people oriented - expertise.
How do we approach this? It starts with a discussion on your interpretation of value creation; what kind of financial, social and environmental value creation are you aiming for? As one of our clients mentioned recently, the proposal of the management consultant he ended up hiring made it very clear how their work would end up in cost savings and additional revenue. His leadership team was easily convinced on the financial return on investment. On the other hand he had a hard time defending a proposal from a consultancy that would work on values and behavioral change and didn’t make it clear what their added value would be. This is something the ‘soft experts’ could work on: improving their story on how their work relates to value creation for their clients.
But to be fair, it’s often much harder to quantify the return on investment of the ‘soft skills’ up front. Having gone through the experience and looking back you can tell the difference, such as more engaged people leading not only to social value (wellbeing) but also financial value (higher productivity). That’s why we often propose to start with a small pilot project, so that our clients can experience the change themselves and get a better understanding on how to move forward.
Do you value both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills equally?
How do you explain the need to invest in ‘soft’ experts to people who are not convinced yet?