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The phrase ‘people are an organisation’s greatest asset’ is often rolled out without full consideration of its meaning. An asset is something that can be owned or controlled to add value – and history teaches us that individuals aren’t big fans of being either owned or controlled.

An exception to this is within sport when the concept of players being ‘owned’ by a club is well entrenched. The Transfer Window has just finished for British football clubs, one of two periods within the year where clubs can trade players with each other. £835 million was spent by 20 clubs to purchase employees from other clubs. People were bought and sold as products.

Sport is fascinating because it does actually follow the principle that people are the organisations greatest asset. If you have paid millions of pounds to own a player you are then in a position where you have to protect the value of that player.

Their fitness, their wellbeing, their confidence and their mental health are all your concern as an employer because you are chronically aware of the impact that any underperformance will have on your organisation’s results. You live and die by your hires.

An interesting question is how other organisations would act if the following parameters were in place

  • You can only recruit employees in two short periods – each summer and winter
  • When you recruit an employee you pay a signing on bonus directly to that employee
  • When you recruit an employee from another organisation you have to agree on a fee to be allowed to recruit them
  • Any employee you recruit is given a 3 year or more contract with performance clauses

My guess is that most people don’t like to be treated like an asset, but the fact is that actual assets appear on a balance sheet and their value is always front of mind for organisations. If organisations had to follow the rules above I think the following things would follow

  • More in depth recruitment processes and focus on team fit
  • More ongoing investment in development (as you can’t just go and find a better worker)
  • More focus on health and wellbeing of individuals
  • A reward system that more closely applied to employees’ actual value rather than benchmarking against other organisations
  • Better and more regular conversations with employees about performance and their lives- you need them on the top of their game
  • A genuine marketplace for talent with far more focus at senior levels on making work easy (yet challenging) for people

I’m not advocating this as an actual change to the employment market – but the next time that you hear the phrase ’employees are our greatest asset’ ask yourself if they really get the attention that often employed phrase would suggest.

If you found this interesting please remember to float your mouse cursor gently over the screen and hit like, share, +1 and the rest of them.

Thanks to Mat Davies for suggesting the topic and for more on employees as assets see this piece from Simon Heath

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