“Our people are our greatest asset.” How many times have you heard that? Certainly, most companies I’ve worked for have said it somewhere in their corporate literature. But what does it really mean and do they really ‘walk the walk’ when it come to this statement? 

If we think of people as an ‘asset’ in the same way we might do a machine, then the there’s definitely some food for thought. 

Imagine a mid-sized company with around 400 employees; the annual wage bill will be around £12m. Now imagine a machine that you invest £12m in every year.  How would that machine be treated? I’d guess it would be cleaned and polished regularly; there’d be the right lubrication and there would be a preventative maintenance schedule for sure. A great deal of time and effort would go into ensuring that this machine was delivering value for as much time as possible. 

Now, go back to our human ‘assets’.  We tend to take a different approach – we ‘run to fail’, that is we keep going and keep going until something stops working. This is when we then look at training, as a remedial effort to correct some sort of behaviour or skill deficiency. Or worse, we do nothing and that ‘asset’ will continue to underperform, possibly even unaware of the issue.  Furthermore, they are not likely to be the only ones in the business whose developmental needs are not being met. Scaled up, you now have underperformance affecting results on an individual, team and organisational level.

So, why don‘t managers apply a more preventative approach and give people the appropriate development as and when they need it to ensure that their performance doesn’t dip or ‘fail’? 

Put simply, a lot of managers haven’t got the skills to recognise this and then deal with it. To be fair, they’ve probably not had the development themselves; it’s not uncommon for someone to be promoted in to a leadership role, given a new job title and a new office and then left to figure it out themselves. Now go back to the idea of a £12m machine… would you give someone a spanner and say “look after that machine, it’s costing us a fortune and we need to maximise performance from it”? I doubt it. Yet, this is what we do to our leaders every day. 

Companies need to re-think how they support their leaders to ensure everyone within the organisation is being supported at the right developmental level, when they need it. Allowing people to fail and then hoping to ‘fix’ them with training is an ineffective, short term strategy. People who are mismanaged will endure it for a short while, but in the end they’ll make one of two decisions: quit and leave or worse, quit and stay and then your £12m can become a whole lot more. 

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