An asset, not a liability

Feb 09 2009 by Charles Helliwell Print This Article

The two greatest challenges we face in the workplace are always the same, no matter what economic circumstances prevail. These are, holding onto our current job and seeking new opportunities to develop our career.

But a bit like the uncertainty of changing weather conditions, which are dependent on the shifting position of the jet stream in the upper atmosphere, much of the focus on our career development and job prospects depends on the pendulum swing between job security and career opportunity.

Currently, the jet stream is firmly entrenched in a high pressure zone of security. Employees are hunkering down for the long, hard, cold spell to come, whilst employers are seeking to re-structure and re-organise their organisations to cater for the inevitable inertia of uncertain times.

So how can employers and employees break this ever-decreasing circle of depression, without exposing themselves to undue and excessive risk and without the cycle of inertia becoming terminal if they choose to do nothing?

First and most importantly, organisations must begin to look at their workforce as an asset and not as a liability, and on that basis, begin the long hard task of assessing the capabilities of those assets. Clearly, the larger the organisation, the tougher this job will be and it might be argued that it's probably better to act in ignorance than not to act at all.

Organisations must begin to look at their workforce as an asset and not as a liability

But let's forget about the supertankers of big business for the moment, since the bulk of the population work for small and medium employers who are suffering equal pain.

These smaller businesses will not have invested significantly in assessing the asset potential of their workforce, simply because up until now, there's been no need for them to do so. The momentum of too many good years of growth has lulled them into a false sense of security, when they've been able to get by, through topping up talent that they've lost. So, what do they do now?

Firstly, to spout the obvious, they must assess where their income and earnings are going to come from in the next 12-18 months. Next, they must put aside all politics, posturing and entrenched positions and determine whether their current asset base of employees best supports the delivery of that income.

It's as simple as that, because the economics of business really is that simple after every other encumbrance has been stripped away. The challenge, as always, is in assessing the unknown factor; those assets or liabilities on every balance sheet, more commonly referred to as the workforce.

How to do it, is the $64,000 question, and always has been. In smaller organisations it's often a random and relatively unscientific process, although many of the principles behind it are as applicable today to larger organisations. This process of assessment often starts with knowing the individual; the actual person who does the real job.

Knowledge of every employee in organisations of up to 50 or less has proven a cornerstone of their success since time immemorial. It's only when these organisations grow beyond a point where employees become either an asset or liability on the balance sheet that this intimate knowledge is lost.

Yet there's absolutely no need why this should be. After all, when organisations grow and expand, they do so as a conglomeration of smaller entities, run by divisional managers and supervisors, who are perfectly capable of getting to understand the complex characters of their own workforce - if they choose to do so.

Consequently, I would argue that organisations can well do without the proliferation of online and offline assessment tools punted around like fool's gold, many of which serve to confuse as much as to illuminate. They can also do without the plethora of so-called coaches, mentors, counsellors and psychologists and the associated blarney which tends to accompany them.

People are people the World over, and nothing beats the honesty of good old face-to-face interaction, whatever the outcome. How sad it is that our society has now progressed to a point where technophilia as the means of communication has spawned a new generation of workers who are fundamentally sociophobic.

I'm not an inveterate Luddite, suggesting that we turn back the clock and revert to the feudal systems of the middle ages. But I will argue that the answers really are very simple and straightforward for those who wish to look for them and embark on this enlightening and invigorating journey of discovery.

So, listen to your workforce.
Learn from your workforce.
Talk to your workforce.
Share with your workforce.
Trust your workforce.
And above all, engage with your workforce.

There's no mystery or silver bullet to assessing the value and potential of your organisation's assets. It's simply a case of how interested you are to find out and how much you care.

About The Author

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.