If a Tree Falls…?

communication executive investment leadership leadership culture ownership performance profit profitability profitability killers return return on investment soft skills soft skills vs hard skills Feb 16, 2023
soft skills vs hard skills

I’ve often heard the deep philosophical question “If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” and thought it stupid. Quite frankly, I’d rank it right up there with the guy who closes himself in the refrigerator to see if the light really does go off when the door closes…

OK Wes, what does that have to do with anything? In all honesty, I believe both of those conundrums tie right in with how having the wrong focus can kill profitability and paralyze us when faced with having a tough conversation with experts in their field who just aren’t living out our organization’s values! But I’m convinced that the impact on our profitability doesn’t stop there!

I grew up cutting firewood with my dad so I know exactly what it sounds like when a tree falls in the forest! (I have not shut myself in a refrigerator though, nor have I ever cared if the light stayed on!) I know that sound because I’ve been there to see the tree falling and hear it hitting the ground. Truth be told, I think that’s often the reason business owners and executives are so willing to provide technical training for the people on their teams; they know exactly how they were able to apply the technical training they received as they grew in their own careers. 

In many cases though, these same folks struggle to invest in providing their team members with any training that’s perceived as soft because they’ve never been given a format for measuring whether or not it’s applied or how it yields results. Think about it… If one of your employees makes a case for purchasing a new piece of equipment by showing how much more efficient they can be (and how much more profit can be generated) by using it, we’d know right away if they continue performing the task the same way they had prior to having that new equipment… We’d see their behavior had not changed!

The challenge I’ve seen with the majority of training that’s been labeled as leadership, communication, or any other “soft” skill is that it’s focused on ideas, which almost always make sense, but never tied back to specific behaviors that need to be applied in order to get visible results. And because results matter so much, this kind of team member development tends to be the very first thing cut from a budget when times are tight.

Be honest with me (and yourself) here… If I could hand you ten dollars for every one dollar you gave me, how often would you hand me a dollar? Would you even consider not handing me that dollar just because you were too busy or because something changed in the economy? If you made that same offer to me, I’d be handing you as many dollars as I could get my hands on and as often as you’d take them! When we’re considering a capital expense like a new piece of equipment or an investment into technical training that we can see our team members apply, we can picture the return so there’s rarely any discussion as to whether or not we have money budgeted for it. But since nearly any type of development for those perceived “soft” skills is hardly ever measured, we take a completely different approach - and that cycle continues to kill profitability!

With that in mind, it’s really just as simple as measuring the right things so that’s what we’ll look at next!