“Our people are our greatest assets.”
These are easy words to say. There are not a lot of people who would disagree with this idea, and it appears on walls and on mission statements and in annual reports. It seems to be a universal truth for most companies, even if it is more often honored in the breach.
Assets show up on a balance sheet. Expenses show up on a profit and loss statement. The money that employees are paid shows up on the profit and loss statement, and not a balance sheet. The words “our greatest assets,” might sometimes be in conflict with the reality that in some cases people are treated more like “a necessary evil.”
A company can’t make people feel as if they are cared about. Only people can do that. Leaders can act in ways that make people know they are cared about. A person’s direct manager can make them feel as if they are valued. This is, in fact, what is necessary if people are truly your greatest asset.
If no one cares about you at work, you are not going to feel like an asset. You’re going to feel like a number. Like a cog in a wheel. Deep caring for and about people is necessary.
Investment in Growth
Companies that believe people are the greatest assets invest in those assets. Some companies invest money to improve what they believe to be their greatest asset, their actual human resources. They train, develop, educate, and coach their people, helping them achieve greater and greater capabilities, confidence, and success. More still, they invest time and energy with the people who work for and with them.
If you believe training and development is too great an expense to invest in your “greatest assets,” your behavior doesn’t match your professed beliefs.
Meaning and Purpose
The most important things you can provide cost nothing and produce the greatest returns.
Your “assets” want to do meaningful work. They want to do work that is purposeful. If your mission is to improve shareholder value, you are severely depriving people of both meaning and purpose.
Many mission statements written on company walls are about as inspirational as the dust collecting on their frames and the even dustier and long forgotten binders the consultants gave the executive team when they were written.
You have to help people understand how and why you create value, as well as how people benefit from their doing so.
People are your greatest assets. But saying it doesn’t make it so.
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