Saturday, October 3, 2009

People are our greatest asset! Really ???

How many times have you heard that line? How many times have you looked at a company's website and noticed the great verbiage concerning their employees and wondered whether it is really true. If your employees were asked whether they believe it, what would be their answer? You just may be surprised or maybe not. Maybe you don't even believe it yourself.

This economic environment has changed the dynamic of employer/employee relationship. So much so that when it is all said and done, trust has been thrown by the wayside. Because of this environment, new employees as well as the ones that were left are in some cases feeling that the mission/value statements really don't mean a lot as it relates to employees. Trust must be mutual and any company that shows positive returns year in and year out, chosen best place to work and all the other measurable metrics will tell you that this cultural dynamic is the most important ingredient in the mix. From an internal standpoint, authenticity, openness, mutual trust and respect are expected from both sides.

As HR professionals we have our work cut out for us on two fronts. When we begin to ramp back up, what will we do differently to reengage that new employee that goes through your onboarding process. What can we do now to get this equation in sync? What will we do with the existing workforce to build back that trust. We can no longer give lip service. If we don't believe it, do you think your employees will. Employees and prospective employees have seen the dynamics play out in their workplace, in the news or heard stories from their friends. HR has to drive that process. We should put this type of initiative on the front burner, because this is where the rubber meets the road. It is our job to drive, develop, restructure and realign our workforce. We are HUMAN RESOURCES!
Employees want to feel ‘respected, involved, heard, well-led and valued' in your company. Please do not under estimate those key points. If this equation is broken or not aligned, your company will pay the price once the economy improves.
The managers at a company is on the front lines of the engagement battle, but they can only do so much. Are they equipped with the tools to carry this re-engagement forward? Do they fall within the same mindset as their employees? HR has to play an much more important role in driving this process. HR must be seen as credible and it is our role to understand the importance of that most prized asset within a company.
There needs to be clear and new thinking in order to step in and act quickly and diplomatically as well as remain strategic, innovative and decisive. This is not how many line managers would currently describe HR. What are the managers key areas of concern in your company? What is on your employee's mind? If you do not know this, the best way to find out is to just ask.
I have always found that focus groups are a great way to get the inside scoop. Facilitated group sessions will provide a great starting point. Have a few sessions for employees and separate sessions for a select group of managers. You will finish this process with a treasure trove of information to start.

Get on the social networking bandwagon!! All of your employees are already there. Use it to communicate, create communities, stay connected. The internal memo, once a year company speech, earnings call memo an other forms of old school communications must be reevaluated. All the forward thinking companies are already there. This means more than just using social networking for recruiting, which I think everyone has seen the success of. Check out this white paper on the use of social networking by Jobvite titled Social Recruiting Survey.

Spend your time on thinking how to effectively use this new phenomenon as opposed to start thinking about the rules. Social networking is a tremendous opportunity for HR.

My comment is that we have to move HR into the 21st Century. We have to rebuild the workforce and not take for granted that most prized asset in our companies


  1. I could not agree more. Most of the corporate annual reports that use this line are such fantasy. As an executive recruiter in healthcare, I can safely say that this line could easily be classified as one of the longest running bad jokes around.

  2. Here is the UK we have a slightly different take on the old cliche, ie. "Good people are our greatest asset" but everything else rings true across the pond.

  3. As a "reformed" accountant I would tell you that there are two kinds of assets:

    1. Appreciable assets (things that gain value the longer you have them)
    2. Depreciable assets (things that have less value the longer you have them because you use them up.

    When you buy a computer (for example) it's a depreciable asset. The longer you own it, the less it is worth.

    But when you buy a work of art, a house (theoretically... ) or make an investment, those are also assets that are supposed to appreciate in value over time. What's more, with an appreciable asset you take special care of it, spend money to preserve it and make it more valuable. In terms of employees, this would be investing in training, providing them benefits, etc.

    When this phrase was originally coined, the intent was that employees were appreciable assets. The longer you have them, the more you invest in them, the more they will return in value to you. Unfortunately most companies treat their employees as depreciable assets that they use up and then throw away.

    People should be our greatest assets, but just like any asset that you purchase, some will have a better return than others. For my money the biggest fallacy in HR/People Management is "we must treat everyone the fairly (i.e. the same). The reality is that we should treat everyone fairly, but that is different than treating everyone the same. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, goals, and fears. To treat everyone the same is truly to treat people like a disposable asset.

    Dave Meyer

  4. Hi,
    Great answer above, comparing Company A and Company B - BUT, in the case of Company A, it isn't their people that is the asset, it is their relationship with their people, their processes, their ethos and their training.

    I am predominently a marketer and whenever I see "It is our people that make the difference" I know that the company involved has either no idea or no compelling differentiator, probably both.

    This is demonstrated by a simple question - "have you ever hired anyone from a competitor or has a competitor every hired someone from you?"

    If yes, which is usually the case, what happens to magically make someone who worked for competitor your so exceptional all of a sudden?

    And if someone leaves you to join a competitor, do they automatically become less exceptional?

    As Anonymous above says, it is communication, training, ethos that make the difference. People are people wherever they work, it is the environment in which they work that makes them successful, effective, happy, etc - or the opposite.