The Work I Do—And Why It’s Not “Soft”


Originally posted on my consulting firm’s website.


We often bump into the idea that the kind of work we do at Forte is perceived as “warm and fuzzy” by businesspeople. (My friend Shawn just expressed something similar on his site.)

The work we do isn’t “fuzzy” or “soft,” but this is quite a persistent myth. Let me explain why it’s untrue—and more importantly, why it’s vital that we all start thinking differently.

The work we do certainly creates more energized and effective cultures, but it also helps mitigate serious workplace people-related challenges. Conflict, for example, is happening all the time in organizations. Sometimes it’s helpful (for example, when people are battling for the best idea to win and have built the trusted relationships to do this), but many times it’s simply negative and corrosive.

Dealing with toxic conflict is not “warm and fuzzy.” It’s hard, and even the most courageous among us often prefer to avoid it. But if there is unhelpful, destructive conflict in a team we all know it right away—the effects are felt powerfully, and they are felt immediately. We can see how much time and energy is being wasted on politics and interpersonal silliness and turf wars. The best ideas aren’t getting shared because…. well, who would in that climate? No one is taking risks. Everyone is distracted by the drama.

If we can help you fix that, you will feel the effects immediately and powerfully, too, in regards to your relationships and productivity… but there’s a caveat. You likely won’t feel the effects of either path (addressing the conflict OR ignoring it) on your bottom line until the next quarter at the earliest.

Our work ISN’T “warm and fuzzy”—but the effects ARE often time-delayed. And in a society of instant gratification, work like this can be hard to prioritize. But what we do know is that in the long run, myopic short-term thinking is the guaranteed death of a business.

The “warm and fuzzy” issue is often more subtle than something like conflict, too.

In many of our organizations today, we’re being asked to do work that requires us to “go the extra mile” in some fashion. We’re being asked to bring a creative idea, collaborate with people outside our function/expertise, do something extra that ‘wows’ the customer, etc. For these kinds of things (which are increasingly becoming part of the baseline that makes an organization competitive), a “rational” exchange of money for work just doesn’t work very well.

In other words, you can pay me a whole bunch of money, but if my heart’s not in the work, I’m just not going to care about it for very long (businessperson translation: retention problems, excessive turnover, ballooning talent acquisition costs, etc.).

It’s helpful to recognize that what makes the work of a company like Forte feel different isn’t that we’re doing something “soft” or “fuzzy,” but that it simply has a different financial impact timeframe. What gets most of the love in business is short-term impact stuff—call it the “quarterly return / stock market effect” if you like—and long-term growth is almost always minimized at the expense of: “But what can you do for me tomorrow?”

Something else we know (but flies in the face of all this rampant short-termism): great business leaders have both a short and long-term revenue strategy. To just do one would be shortsighted at best and grossly negligent at worse.

So yes, you might not (read: probably won’t) see the bottom line effects of our work tomorrow. But you will have a company to work for in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 years because of the work we did together. Why? Because the most amazing people (businessperson translation: the people you actually want to employ) come to work for companies that make them feel valuable, let them use their strengths, push them to become the best version of themselves, and help them achieve their dreams. Those rock stars are the ones that make your company work. 

It’s our work that helps you get those people and keep them, ensuring your business is able to keep generating (boatloads of) money down the line.

If you want a sustainable and competitive business, you simply can’t omit culture as a business driver… at least not if you want a business that lasts. Without it, your business simply won’t stick around.

I hope that’s not too fuzzy.


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