Are Your Humans “Resources” Or “Capital”?

Reproduced with kind permission from Forbes

The other day a banker CTO told us “What I really like about your software solution is that it suggests all these wonderful things are possible. That you believe there’s a way to instill this courage, and passion into people. It’s hopeful.”

And in hindsight, devoid of either design intentionality or marketing aspirations, we have created something that hinges on our extreme belief in other humans.

We have done so because we can’t think any other way. (Why does anyone?!?) There’s no defeatist lens about everything being lost, or everyone being beyond saving or bettering in our view of employees.

Crucially, we don’t think of people as a line in a P&L but an asset.

Humans As Capital, Not Resources

A few years ago, the term “Human Capital” entered the vocabulary of well-known consultancies and from there, migrated to some organizations. Nonetheless, if we are to look for it today, it’s nowhere to be seen almost as if the companies it was presented to never really embraced it.

Calling humans a “resource” is not only mind-blowingly short-sighted and condescending, but also devoid of business sense, as most organizations report turnover and acquisition costs for personnel always far outweigh any efforts to retain and better their staff.

In other words, it is a lot less expensive to find and squeeze the good out of your people and then keep them, than it is to eternally replace them.

Why is it then, that “capital” – a term that implies respect for an asset that’s worth something has had so little traction and why is it that HR all over the world hasn’t put up a bigger fight to retain it?

Potential and Motivation

And why shouldn’t an organization believe in its people? At the end of the day, they spend so much time and money finding the best ones – the brightest minds, the most educated and experienced individuals, the most promising stars.

The same people that entered the doors a while back starry-eyed and ready to take on the world, are still around, equally intelligent and even more knowledgeable, so why are they a stale and at risk resource today and not an asset?

People’s objective and rational attributes do not diminish in time, what does severely erode when forced into a stiff corporate environment though, is their level of emotional investment, whether or not their heart is (still) in it.

A few years back, research emerged showing that employees are only secondarily motivated by monetary compensation and are far more likely to positively respond to intangible rewards related to purpose. Companies around the world know that, and as soon as the data became available a few have made attempts to tackle the topic and see where and how they can improve, but the harsh reality is broad strokes and politically correct messaging will not turn the tide on lack of involvement from employees.

Choose Them With Heart

For reasons that would be interesting to unpack in a separate thread, when companies hire they focus mainly on theoretical attributes related to a person’s education and tangible previous results. How much they’ve learned and on what topic or what experience they have, is easily measurable and has become the main token for making a decision towards having someone on board.

Equally easy to measure and utterly fundamental, but never featured on one’s CV is their IQ. While we measure the products of that IQ combined with a serious of other factors by scrutinizing a person’s skills and results, it is considered unacceptable to use it as a stand-alone indicator.

Another defining factor of any individual is their EQ and under the term’s broad umbrella the way they experience and utilize emotions and needless to say if it’s more rational cousin above goes unmeasured so does EQ.

Outside of inconsistently shy attempts to introduce psychometric testing of personalities in the recruitment process and some lip service of hiring for cultural fit and to realize diversity, most companies stay firmly away from testing anything at all around who an individual is and how they feel from what can only be a scarcely examined reason why. As a result, there is no effort put into hiring only those whose heart is most into the product, the service or the mission of the organization.

Heal Their Hearts

Having lost the hiring opportunity of evaluating and choosing it’s almost accidental that companies acquire employees who believe in them as much as most new hires do.

Once the honeymoon is over and when they start seeing all the idiosyncrasies of the organization and be exposed to their devastating effect on their sense of self-worth, it’s no wonder that employees lose what little heart they had to begin with.

In time, the gap between hopeful expectation about their role and the ability to change the world versus the harsh, stifling reality of the corporate environment, sees people either give up and leave or more likely and arguably even worse, give up and stay. These “remainders” often report feeling completely defeated and emotionally disconnect and dissociate from anything to do with the company entering an “automated pilot” phase of work.

The vast majority of the employees of big organizations exist in this state of demoralized stasis in what is a sick cycle of near abuse with their employer devoid of interest, hope or enthusiasm. No wonder we can’t apply the term of “capital” to them once the relationship has deteriorated to this degree.

Everyone’s Heart Is Of A Different Shape

What is there to do for the organizations who see this happening – they missed the chance to only let those with their soul on the line in, and the people they did have who were invested have now lost their spark – how can they turn the tide?

Even with the best intentions of motivating and re-instilling passion in your employees, organizations find they have little in the way of ideas on how to accomplish that in practice and that mainly stems from their lack of insight into their own people.

For any relationship to be lastingly successful, intimate two-way knowledge is a sine qua non condition. Work is the only type of human relationship where there is no reciprocity in the exchange. Employees are expected to know everything there is to know about the company but the organization never tries to get to know them in return.

Be it from an ill-understood need to protect people’s privacy or, more likely, because “resources” don’t have an emotional dimension and are but numbers in a spreadsheet, the relationship is utterly one-sided and there is no intimacy created. In the absence of intimacy, we miss on trust and attachment which can never grow in an environment where there is no real closeness.

To find out how to get their people to reinvest, organizations first have to wonder who their people really are and make a real effort to get to know them.

CEO For The Day

To change the discourse from humans being but a resource versus them being an organization’s most important capital, all companies need to do is exclusively let people through the door if their hearts are in it and then build a real, intimate and reciprocal relationship where they protect and enhance their emotional investment. Simple, right?

Of course not. In particular where we are today, with constraints that range from legal and moral to perceived and scarcely examined, with a workforce more disconnected than ever in an era where we need them to be focusing on their human side urgently, leaders who care about lasting success do indeed face a tremendous challenge if they wanted to change this status quo that is devoid of heart and hampering innovation and progress.

The heavy lifting has to start at opening the dialogue, getting everyone involved and invested enough, seeing that proverbial “good in people” that the CTO in our story was stunned to see had been baked into our design process.

As a barometer of how far they have to go, we often tell boards the JFK vs. NASA janitor story where the latter responds to the query of the former as to what his role there is, by saying “I help put men on the moon” and advise they start internal “CEO For The Day” programs where employees take turns running the show.

This quickly gives them an idea of where the glaring gaps are in truly inspiring and motivating people and expands their minds in wondering how to begin to heal the relationship and get to know them as individuals, not mere employees.

It’s only then that we can hope to turn our humans from figures on a spreadsheet to assets, from lines in a report to hearts and minds, from “resources” to “capital”.

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