Our People Are Our Greatest…Liability

I once was editing an executive’s letter to employees. In it, he said: “We must take advantage of all our assets, including (then he listed several assets), and especially our greatest asset: our people.” I circled the words “take advantage of” and “our people” and drew a line between the two. He appreciated my catch of his Freudian slip.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Our people are our greatest asset.” It’s tried and true.

If we invest in our people with sincere intent, give them fulfillment by training them to be better at what they do, helping them grow in their vocation, bringing alignment and focus so they can reliably meet team goals and their own goals…if we do all of this, our people will pull with us. (I won’t reference the studies that show how engagement drives financial results …there are too many to reference.)

Maybe by now, though, this “Our people are our greatest asset” saying is actually trite and true. Trite because we use it so much…even when it’s not actually true.

Truth is, if we say it but don’t believe it, our actions will show it and our people will smell it. They’re insulted. Hell hath no fury. Our people will—quietly or loudly—turn on us. They’ll go to work somewhere else. They’ll stay inside and resist. Our people will be our greatest liability.

This is especially important to remember during change. Because during change if our people don’t change, there is no change. We can plop a new company on top of them, reorganize…we can do all kinds of things and even think “There, we’ve moved these people to different buildings, they will simply have to change.” But our people don’t have to change. We need to get our people to want to change.

How do we get people to want to change? We have to get involved in the change and focus on inputs to get the outcomes we want. We have to pull our people to the change; we can’t push it on them. We have to listen first. And we have to model the change.

In reality, our people aren’t automatically our greatest asset or our greatest liability: They’re our greatest leverage point. They can pull us forward or drag us down. They can make us successful or abject failures. But it’s not “they” who decide whether they make us successful or failures. It’s “we.”

If we think of them as our greatest asset, they’ll see it in our actions. If we forget it for a single moment or—worse—don’t believe it, fuggedaboutit! Let’s keep this in mind every moment of the day.

Let me know what you think. I look forward to being in touch.

Al

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