The Biggest Business Cliché – Our People Are Our Greatest Asset

Stretford End

This comment has become so hackneyed it’s also achieved a kind of post modern status – you can’t be serious. When people hear it they smile wryly, waiting for the ironic or platitudinous punch line, never expecting to discover any real evidence or intention that gives the statement meaning or weight.

Look at how much organisations pay annually in servicing and licensing costs above the original purchase/installation cost, thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands per annum. And then look at the per-captia spend reinvesting in their people – the lowest pay settlement the company can get away with and a few hundred £/€/$ per person spent on training (which is often the first thing to be cut in difficult trading conditions). Not a very compelling justification of the ‘greatest asset’ claim.

Let’s look more positively at how an organisation might live up to the statement. Take the material valuing of someone. If we ignore market-rate pay and benefits, treating both as a base line required minimum investment, the valuing part of the statement would be demonstrated in the premium invested above that base line.

Bonuses are an interesting area. If they are paid for individual performance they are being paid conditionally, if the performance wasn’t there then neither would the bonus. This is why people can earn huge sums of money and still view their employment transactionally, because their employer views them in the same way.

The employee would really be valued (as the most important asset) if the employer spent money on them above the market norm unconditionally. Giving somebody a bonus/time/benefit for who they are (a great person) rather than specifically for what they have done, shows how they are really valued. Plus the monetary worth expended for the motivational impact is hugely disproportionate. For example; somebody who has used all their holiday entitlement and is on a tight budget, has a significant personal problem for which they would ordinarily take time from their vacation allowance and they can’t afford unpaid leave. Their line-manager sees this dilemma and helps out with some additional paid time off. The manager subverts the system for the benefit of the employee. There is all kind of risks: precedents being created, people taking advantage, others piling in with requests etc. All those risks are worthwhile, because the demonstration of some humanity towards this employee and their problem will create a deeper permanent level of engagement. They will feel valued.