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: http://www.inc.com/kevin-ryan/kevin-ryan-how-gilt-groupe-recruits-top-talent.html

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 corporate@elaura.com. It is what we do.

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