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The "Soft Stuff" Really Does Still Count!

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The "Soft Stuff" Really Does Still Count!

I was chatting the other day with a group of successful business men and women and the inevitable question came up - "Which part of your business gives you the most problems?" Equally inevitably, the usual answer came up – "People!"


It seems that we are destined to re-live history! For years business and HR have recognised that a sustainable competitive edge often flows from exceptional staff in an organisation. For years we have recognised that motivated, willing and skilled people are a core asset in our organisations, and yet we still can't seem to "get it right!"

There has been a huge amount written on "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" motivators and time and again, we have come to the conclusion that money is not the perfect motivator. Yes, it is absolutely true that employees require a fair" salary (and no, I am not going to be drawn into a definition of "fair") but once that requirement has been met – the real work starts. I do believe that business often focuses only on the money aspect for two reasons:

  1. It is relatively "easy" to pay someone more, always assuming you can afford the increased cost; and
  2. There is an immediate short term uptick in satisfaction and performance and we live in a world of instant gratification.

The problem is that the satisfaction of today's increase is soon forgotten as we live up to our new found income, and soon the original status quo is re-established.


So what's the answer?

I am a great lover of the work of Professor Dave Ulrich and author Daniel Pink, both of whom continually preach that it is the so called "soft" issues which drive employee satisfaction, staff motivation, customer satisfaction and ultimately business success.


Daniel Pink talks of giving people the autonomy to manage their work environment, the skills and opportunities to become masters of what they do and work that has both purpose and meaning. (As an aside, it was Jack Welch who told the story of being given a meaningless and soul destroying job filling a bucket with washers when he was a young man at General Electric.)


Dave Ulrich delves into a little more detail when he writes in his book "The HR Value Proposition" of giving staff a VOI2C2E. His model appeals to me as it provides a simple, easy to follow set of requirements for staff satisfaction, which can be relatively easily implemented and measured.


He writes of:

  • Vision: Providing staff with an easy to follow, easy to understand, yet powerful vision of a future to which they can all aspire.
  • Opportunity: Most people desire opportunities to grow both intellectually as well as financially. It is the growth in their abilities which makes them more marketable, improves their earning abilities and satisfies Maslow's need for self-actualisation.
  • Incentive: When the staff member achieves and the organisation achieves, there should be a "sharing" of this new found benefit. In other words, share the increased profits with people who have contributed by performing well.
  • Impact: Just as Jack Welch discovered, people want to do work that has impact and is of value. Clearly, some tasks are going to be more value creating than others and equally so, some tasks are more "desired" than others, but it does help to show people how their work contributes to the overall success of the organisation. (Ask any group of senior or middle management who they would miss more if they were not at work for a day, the MD or the tea-lady, and you will understand the value of the often lowly regarded tea and coffee function!)
  • Communication: This refers to not only keeping staff informed of what is happening, but also asking them for their input and then listening to it! The trick here is to understand that no matter how good we believe our communication to be – it isn't! There may be some organisations that have great communication, but I have yet to come across one, in fact every group I have worked with has complained of communication issues.
  • Community: By and large people spend more time at work that they do at home. This simple fact means that they want to work in a community that cares about them. The want to feel that they are not just a number, that both their contribution and persona is valued.
  • Experiment: This last requirement refers to the freedom people desire to try new ways of doing things. It refers to an organisation culture that allows people to make mistakes in the pursuit of excellence and greater efficiencies. Don't be mistaken however – this is not an open chequebook for ill-discipline!

As you can see from the above, Professor Ulrich's model is both simple and to the point – it's attraction for me lies in its very simplicity. It would not take very long to implement the above points and create the tools with which to measure their implementation. The final measure of whether VOI2C2E is worth continuing will lie in your organisation customer satisfaction surveys, complaints register, income statement and share value!


In closing, you may say that the above is a little dated, after all "The HR Value Proposition" was published in 2005! I would refer you to an article at no less than London Business School dated January 2013 and entitled "Bringing out the best in employees" () which clearly shows that nothing has changed – the "soft stuff" still counts!

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 March 2013 11:30
Bill Nash

Bill Nash

Founder and Managing Director of his HR and management development and consulting company, Unique People Solutions (PTY) Ltd (UPS), Bill is absolutely passionate about "the right people being the only sustainable competitive edge in our modern business environment".

UPS focuses on all aspects of Management Development and consulting as well as the development of HR Business Partners who are able to add value to their host organisations.

Bill has some 30 years' experience in line and staff management, primarily in FMCG, in various public companies. At different times in his career he has held the board portfolios of Marketing, Information Technology, Property, Merchandise, Logistics and Human Resources before leaving corporate employment and taking up the challenge of founding Unique People Solutions some 8 years ago.

With a university qualification in Management and Human Resource Management he brings with him not only core Human Resource competencies but also a background of unique practical business experience which he incorporates into his training and client interactions.

He is a registered HR Practitioner (Generalist) as well as a registered HR Practitioner (ETD Specialist) with SABPP.

On the topic of Human Resources he is equally determined that "HR, if it is to survive, must add discernible and measurable value to the bottom line of organisations".


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