For a profession that vociferously proclaims its right to a place at the high table of management the HR profession is remarkably adept at undermining its own efforts! But even by their standards their latest own goal is spectacular!
It has just been announced that the CIPD – the body that represents the HR profession in the UK - has removed the issue of accounting for people as assets from their “Valuing Your Talent” project. With a commission called “Valuing your Talent” you would have to think that this negates the whole purpose and is throwing the baby out of the bath before the bathwater has even been run! What makes the whole debacle even more galling, however, is their reason for doing so.
It isn’t actually because the philosophical chasm between Finance and HR is simply too wide to cross, but rather the inflexibility on either side and their dogmatic determination and inability to be more open minded.
You can understand this from financial people. Their attitude that “people are an expense” is grounded in centuries of tradition and generally accepted accounting standards, and is quite in keeping with the fact that they are always dealing with history and past events. Their whole profession relies on their ability to track and record financial transactions; things that have happened. This is what gave rise to the witticism that “accountants drive a business by looking in the rear view mirror.” Yet you cannot hold that against them or expect them to be more forward looking.
You would not, however, expect them to be so ably supported by the HR profession: people who decry the concept. Yet, it is the attitude that “you cannot treat people like assets, in the same way as you treat plant and equipment”, which enables the financial profession to be so intransigent. They simply nod their heads sagely, say “precisely”, and carry on in their own sweet way.
How frustrating this is for those who do recognise that people are assets, and who are trying to find some practical way to accommodate this. After all even executive managers describe their people as assets. So what damage does it do to talk about people as assets and treat them as costs? It is a paradox; and a dichotomy that has to be ended. And surely you can do this by recognising that there are different types of assets and that maybe the “semi-fixed” assets that are people can be accommodated by developing different, more appropriate accounting rules.
For the naysayers who argue that there is “inherent moral and economic danger” in valuing people as assets fail to accept that there is just as much danger in not valuing them as such. In fact in an age where business success depends on down-the-line decisions and distributed leadership there is perhaps more danger in not doing so. And that is what makes this decision so ironic and such an own goal.
The project is now going to focus on “helping organisations be more sustainable and maximise their workforce potential.” Yet valuing people and treating them as assets is the best way to do this. Only then will you create the organisational integrity that will redress the loss of productivity and ensure that the earth’s assets are not wasted to the same extent as they are presently. It makes you want to weep!