Hands to Heads to Hearts

Yesterday I was reading the Deloittes Economics report “Why the Future of Work is Human”. It was timely, as it highlighted my recent experiences in a number of areas of my life.  With my colleagues in Innovim, we have been running workshops and a program discussing what is the value of the services of professional advisers.  We emphasise that value (always assessed by the client) is a “feeling” and includes the client’s perception of the experience with the professional.  Empathy is at the heart of delivering value.

And yesterday a law student friend of my 21 year old daughter asked for my advice on what was the GPA score required by law firms.  Putting on my grumpy old person hat, I explained that the better indicator of a great lawyer was their personal (soft) skills, including their ability to listen to and understand the client, to organise themselves and to think innovatively.

And my third experience was with a hospitalised family member dealing with three different medical specialists. Two are engaging, listening professionals, able to clearly explain complex issues and happy to patiently answer questions.  The third is dismissive, impatient, and embedded in medical jargon, in other words completely lacking in bedside manner.  We completely trust the first two and are looking for an alternative to replace the third.

So why is the Deloittes report relevant?  It explains that, in the last part of the 20th century, we moved from Hands to Heads work – manual to knowledge – but are now moving from Heads to Heart work – knowledge to the soft “human” skills that cannot be provided by AI.  And we have a significant skills gap in that area. Robots will not replace us – “humans are better at being human”.  Deloittes expects that, by 2030,  2/rds. of jobs will be soft skills intensive occupations.

So, in professional services, what are the soft (heart) skills? Customer service, leadership (not management), exercising ethics, applying emotional judgement, active listening, design and innovative thinking, resolving conflict.  For many professionals, the idea of customer service is a little uncomfortable.  And the idea of describing value delivered to the client in the terms of customer service and client experience really goes against the grain as the professional’s perception of value is entirely focused on their inputs (the tasks they are undertaking).

Recently we were working with a professional service firm developing a proposal for a client and encouraging the professionals to empathise with the client and describe the value through the client’s eyes.  The professionals were concerned that describing the value in terms of how the outcome would impact the client’s life (the successful transaction would enable the client to fulfil her long-held dreams of a complete lifestyle change), was really a sales pitch.  But does a client really see 3 or 4 rounds of negotiations as value?

Deloittes sum it up – demand now is for the heart skills – that’s where the value lies.