It is ironic – and not a little frustrating! How often have you heard a colleague or senior executive say, “Our people are our greatest asset”? And they are not being facetious or hypocritical when they say it. Yet they never treat their people as assets and their people certainly don’t feel like assets. And that is a problem.
Why? Because feelings shape perceptions and perceptions shape behaviour. Consequently if you want to create employee engagement – if you want your people to show more interest in what they do and how they do it – you have to make them feel like assets.
Yet all too often when I promote this idea I encounter the objections that:
- “People cannot be assets, because you cannot own them”; or
- “It is all very well, but you have no control over their movement. They can leave at any time.”
No, you cannot own people, but if you can employ them there is nothing to stop you regarding the employment contract as a lease. It is generally accepted practice to treat leased equipment as assets even though, technically, they still belong to the bank. So why could you not use the same logic for people? In any case, it is not unprecedented. Sportspeople are regarded as, and treated as, assets by the clubs that own them. Musicians and singers are treated as assets by the studio that they are contracted to. Actors and actresses are (or used to be) treated as assets by the studios they work/worked for.
The only difference here is that now, instead of selecting and isolating specific people, you are applying the principles universally. That cannot be a bad thing if you recognise that the organisation can only succeed if everyone plays their full part. And it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to view the organisation as a single team. After all if the groundsman doesn’t do his job properly a bad bounce could cost his team the league and the few million that ride on it.
The argument that a person could leave at any time is similarly hollow. Any asset can be lost or destroyed at any time. Can you imagine the early merchants who fathered trade as we currently know it, refusing to value their ships or the good on them, because they could be lost in a storm at any time? The risk of having an employee resign is hardly all that different. And of course that risk is considerably reduced if you offer employee ownership as part of their employment contract.
So don’t let yourself be conned by such conventional wisdom and a lack of imagination. Treat your people as the assets they really are and see what a profound difference it makes to your organisation, its results and the lives of the people – including you!