Monthly Archives: November 2012

Employees – Resources, Assets, Investments…OR…?

Do you recollect the multiple choice questions you handled in tests? And the number of times you were sorely tempted to ask for the option “None of the above”?

This is how I feel about the futile arguments on the question – Is the employee a resource, an asset, an investment or…?

Labels seem to spring up anew, when all we need to know and call them by what they really are – people, human beings!

Let us strike out the word resources right away. Are they mined? Are they to be controlled to produce economic value for an organization? And discarded when not useful? Ugh..sounds like bonded slavery!

Assets?  Hmmm…certainly sounds better! This perhaps pushes organizations to create a culture and atmosphere where employees feel valued, and so return value in fair measure. From their selection to nurture, the organization pays greater attention to them. Understanding and tiering them in terms of capabilities, providing the right platforms to map and support different levels of capabilities to organizational talent needs give both the employee and the organization the competitive edge.

Yet something rankles with this definition. As well-meaning the thought may be in terming employees as assets, the following fundamental ironies still loom.

We invest in assets with a firm intent that we own them. And that the return they give must exceed what we invest in them. With employees, organizations are damned if they want to own them (damned more with such perceived one-sided expectations), and damned worse if employees think that their employers display no ownership of them. And that pretty much rules out thinking of employees as investments too.

Even the best performing assets do only what they were invested in to do. When even continuous improvement becomes a pipe dream, creativity? Heck, that is not even in its lexicon!

And now to the final irony. Both in good and bad times, employees are reflected as expenses on the income statement and as liabilities in the balance sheet. And when the going is less than good, employees are as ready to take flight as employers are ready to cut their…losses! Yessir, that is how assets and investments are realistically treated.

So let us cut to reality. Employees are not a company’s resources, assets, investments or any newer romantic jargons that may be coined. They are people, they are humans, in fact, they are the organization! They are the brand value of an organization, they are the stock prices that are traded – by inventing products, serving customers and creating value. While lauding the attempts of certain organizations to quantify this value, this is still but a fraction of the employee as a whole.

It will do well for organizations to take a lesson or two from the fundamental rules of life and relationships. Let us start by calling them by their right names – human beings. Excellence of economics or savviness in taking business to successful peaks need not take a back seat in so considering employees – in fact, it may just add value to the pursuit of excellence. Employment is a two way street – such sensible relationship building may help eliminate angst between the user and used, the victor and the vanquished, and the “us” and the “them”.


What is my measure of my success?

Work-life balance.

Even as organizations struggle between how much to genuinely accede to this devil of a subject and merely pay lip service to it, how can we as individuals, take primary (if not total) accountability for something that affects us the most?

And so, the first question – What are our powerful motivators in our lives?

Money? Learning? Recognition? Growth? Contribute to others’ progress?   Relationships?

All of the above would be a truthful answer. The degrees of separation are what sign us apart. Quite a number of us struggle with the question – “How can I ensure that my relationships will be my enduring source of happiness?”

Each one of us have gone through difficult, challenging relationship situations – we have overcome some and been consumed by others, exulted in some and grieved others, proved right by some and acceded our mistakes to others. One thing for sure – when we stepped out into the world to make something for ourselves, none of did so with a deliberate aim to break relationships to make ourselves happy.

Why then do we so often find ourselves at crossroads? How can we score high on our own self-satisfaction surveys?

From personal experience and from many who have shared their experiences with me, the answer seems to ring unanimous. Clarity, conviction and purpose on what to spend our time and efforts, without letting the drift of demand consume us. In hindsight, we may measure our success by many yardsticks, but the trick lies in applying clarity to our lives’ purpose with foresight.

But the purpose is only the beginning. To sustain it, I need to ask myself – how do my work and personal life compete for my personal time, energy, and efforts? None of us can wish away our need for achievement and recognition. The pride of our achievements envelops those in our personal orbit too, and we should not be considered selfish if we did so. The challenge, however, lies in the perception behind the reality.

In our need and choices for achievement, we tend to disproportionately apportion our additional personal time and efforts to our careers – perhaps because it can provide immediate, visible and peer-accepted results of success – salaries, promotions, visibility… We perhaps do not see or feel the same immediate results when we invest them in relationships (raising kids, relationship with spouses, family and friends), be it in their progress or deterioration. The inevitable visibility hits us only many years later, and in some cases, sadly and regrettably too late.

There is no right or wrong here, and it would be futile to attempt any judgment. But if relationships are truly what you feel matters most for your happiness, catch yourself at it when you underinvest in them and overinvest in your careers – especially if it is merely to live up to a blindly prescriptive measure of success.

I remember what a mature academic achiever told me once. ‘Today’s record of achievement slips into unknown history tomorrow”. As we progress through stages in life, the impacts we make with individual success fade into unimportance and what remains, even in our own balance, is the number of lives we have touched and the extent to which we have. We never will revel in the impact after we leave, but can make it happy for those we leave behind.