Saturday April 26, 2014
I’m sure they’re well meaning, but HR people by the droves like to use trite phrases like, “Employees are our most important asset.” But think about it. An asset is a resource that a company owns or controls to either pay debts or to get a future benefit from.
Business owners, bosses, and HR people who think they own the employees who work for them have a distorted view of reality. Business owners, bosses, and HR people who think they control the people who work for them – as some bosses do – probably get lip service at best when the boss is watching. People aren’t something you expend and use up. At least they shouldn’t be.
Today it’s a little more in vogue to refer to employees as “Human Capital.” No better! Think about it. “Capital” is another way of saying “asset,” or the financial value of an asset. It still implies ownership. Capital is something that is used up in production. Humans aren’t owned (unless they are slaves) and shouldn’t be used up.
Truth be told, I don’t like the term “Human Resources” even though that’s my background. “Resource” is another way of saying “asset.” Resources are assets that a company owns and transforms to produce benefit and in the process may be consumed or made unavailable. People can't be a resource without treating them as something other than human.
As long as we keep referring to employees as resources, capital, or assets, we’ll probably stay in the mode of treating them like we do resources, capital, or assets. That doesn’t mean companies who use those phrases don’t love “their” employees. But they may also love their money, their office, their Intellectual Property.
As long as we think of employees as things we own, expend, consume, or use up, we’ll never get the kind of value that employees can bring when enlisted, envisioned, and engaged in the place they work for. Employees who are in on things, who have interesting work (usually because of a direct tie to a big picture and values that they feel aligned with), and who are appreciated for their contribution, will do LOTS to make their company successful – way more than an asset, a resource, or capital could ever do.
So here’s a thought: If we must refer to employees in financial terms, why don’t we call them our most important investment? We all want our investments to be successful. We do what we need to do to help those investments succeed, and when they don’t produce the desired ROI, we may switch investments. And that’s the way it should be in the employment relationship. Employers should provide training, education, and tools to help employees succeed. And when they don’t get the ROI from a particular employee, they may need to switch investments.
The wrong employees may seem like your worst nightmare, but the right ones will help make your dreams come true. Treat them as an investment and your employees will help you cut costs, find missing revenue, discover new leads and markets, and recruit the best talent.
What is your most important asset? Probably your Intellectual Property. You own that.