Invest where it makes the biggest difference

14 07 2012

Simple question: where do you invest the most money and effort when it comes to recruiting for your business or organisation? We have seen this well illustrated recently.

On the one hand, we have seen a string of leaders of banks and other major business organisations who have had to step down. Despite having been recruited with almost infinite amounts of money and effort, they have essentially argued “I knew nothing about this” [insert fraudulent or unethical behaviour here]. Perhaps they are right – perhaps the CEO knows nothing and can impact nothing. (I don’t believe that for a moment, but it is a remarkably self-effacing ploy!)

On the other hand, we have seen – thanks to a whistleblower – the apparently complete lack of time and effort which had been put into recruiting and training security personnel for the London Olympics. After all, they are only to be paid peanuts, so fine if they turn out to be monkeys. The fact that the personal security of many of us will depend on their alertness and skill doesn’t seem to register.

Before you laugh too loud at those revelations in the tabloids, though, you might want to think about how much effort you put, comparatively, into the recruitment of your senior executives versus your hourly-waged, customer-facing staff. Because it is the latter who get to influence your reputation on an hour by hour, minute by minute basis. Their every word and action converts directly to black or red ink on your bottom line. Begging your pardon, but your senior executives generally only impact your reputation after they have driven your ship onto the rocks – or allowed others to do so.

Don’t misunderstand me – I do actually believe that the senior roles in any organisation are hugely important – provided they see their primary role as enabling your people who actually serve customers to get on with the right job, properly resourced and well-led.

My real point is to challenge the under-resourcing of recruitment and training of front-line staff. They are actually the ones who make dealing with you a pleasure – or a never-to-be-repeated experience!


Our most valuable resource

13 07 2012

There is a Dilbert cartoon (yes, I probably need to find some other sources of information) in which the Pointy-Haired Boss announces that contrary to previous statements, it turns out that “people are only our 8th most valuable resource”. Wally says “I don’t want to ask what came seventh…” only to have the PHB answer him anyway: “carbon paper”.

“People are our most valuable resource”, has certainly engendered a vast ocean of cynicism over the years. Yet I suspect it was always genuinely meant to begin with. It is easy to see why: any rational analysis of business organisations, whose survival depends on satisfying the needs of individuals or groups of people, is likely to conclude that having the right people in place is the critical success factor for the business, not least because any other competitive advantage you like to name starts with a person or group of people – software, strategy, technology and definitely culture.

So what has gone wrong? Why do business leaders pay lip-service to the value of people, while working to undermine those same people’s worth by their actions?

Putting aside naked greed and stupidity – and there is plenty of that around – I suspect it comes down to the problem of measurement and management. People are hard to understand, and seem to defy measurement (except by performance) and therefore management. Recruitment selection still lags behind a visit to the casino in terms of certainty of outcome for many companies. So focus on things we can measure and manage like money and acquisitions and marketing budgets. And yes, carbon paper definitely ranks above people in manageability.

I doubt this is conscious, but it shows in the low expectation many business leaders have of their investment of time and energy in their people. It is a counsel of despair, though: as we said at the start, people clearly are what matters most to any organisation.

Want to see a business leader who gives such negativism short shrift? Try Kevin Ryan, CEO of Gilte Group:

And – a word from our sponsors – people are a lot more measurable (in all their infinite variation and complexity) than you may think. Recruitment selection can be a highly accurate exercise, as can managing the talent you already have. Talk to us at It is what we do.