Back to the Future – People really are a company’s most valuable asset

Albert Kalaja, COO, Hidden Cove Solutions, writes about his experience on People, growth and change management:

Talk to most successful business people and they’ll tell you that creating a successful business is all about having a unique product or service, a strong online presence, financial stability and excellent customer service.

They might even add that having the right systems, software and processes will contribute to making the business successful.

Those things are the hallmarks of a successful business but it’s not why those businesses are successful.

When you analyse it, you realise that the logistics, operations, systems, products and even business models can be copied by competitors.  And it’s not just competitors that could be copying you, because start-ups can quite easily establish themselves in this digital age at the fraction of the cost that it once did and be competing for your market share, virtually overnight.

So, what can’t be copied? – it’s the people who work for you.

Companies can do their best to be unique, but at the end of the day, it is the people behind the organisation, running and working in the company that makes the difference.  It really is – isn’t it?

Now I believe that I first heard the phrase “Our people are our most valuable asset” back in the late 70’s. The phrase may have even been coined long before then. To me, the phrase acknowledged the importance that people played in the fortunes of the business in which they worked.

However, during the next 30 years of my working life, I realised that the phrase was more a platitude than anything else.  A one-line slogan that sounded good.  Management would apply conventional capital asset thinking and treat people purely as something else to measure for ROI etc. Those were the years where organisations were exclusively hierarchical and were run under command-and-control structures.

Just before writing this post I thought I would google the phrase “people are our most valuable asset” out of interest.  I obtained over 12,000 hits. And so many of those hits were on articles which themselves quite often had over 100 comments. A lot of people have experienced the lip-service given to phrase. There were many comments from people not wanting to be referred to as “resources” or being used as a resource.   There were other comments from people saying that those companies that did value their people did it through actions and not by uttering the platitude or by having it in their mission statement.

The sincerity and genuineness of the sentiment are important and so is the language that’s used to express that sentiment.

I saw one post that offered this as an alternative phrase “Our people are our greatest strength”

So – have things changed?  Are people now truly valued by the organisations in which they work?

Is this age of digital disruption and of being Agile changing the way people are viewed by their organisations?  If there is a change, then is it simply because there are newer generations of managers with different attitudes and values that are running those organisations?

What do you think?