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  • Writer's pictureSteve Bowen

Your employees are not your most important assets

Go to any corporate recruiting page and you'll likely come across a variation of the claim "Our employees are our most valuable assets."

There's good reasoning behind the statement - a business without employees will achieve very little. A business with employees that are disaffected or disengaged will struggle to meet its objectives.

Your employees are your most important 'most valuable assets' claim is a mistake. It's become a trope that arguably dehumanizes the very people that it's intending to laud.

We all have assets - homes, investments, cars. Assets sit on balance sheets or in safety deposit boxes. We don't talk to our assets. We don't ask them how they are doing. We acquire, leverage or sell them. Perhaps that's why so many organizations have Customer Relationship Managers and Human Resources departments.

Your employees are your most important stakeholders. They are the people that come to work every day and deliver on the organization's behalf. Who work evenings and weekends when asked to. Who forego family events to meet deadlines. Yes, they are remunerated for the work they do, but thinking of them as 'assets' or 'resources' risks taking them for granted.

Every business leader will agree that meeting key customers or partners face-to-face is a critical part of the role, even if these meetings happen only once or twice a year. It's the face time that builds the relationship, that engenders mutual respect and that gives the leader a crucial insight into the state of the business, at least as far as that specific relationship is concerned.

Far fewer leaders treat their employees the same way that they treat their customers. Rather than going to visit their employees, they will call the people they want to talk into their office. Rather than ask how employees are doing, they will ask what they are doing - and then ask for more.

How would your attitude toward your team change if you treated employees like customers? How would their attitude toward you change? The idea of 'management by walking around' is something that is not often practiced, at least not in the highly hierarchical cultures in which I've built my career, but it's a crucial tool in a business leader's communications toolbox.

Going into your employee's spaces, having honest, personal conversations with them that go beyond status updates - taking an active interest in their wellbeing, listening to their concerns and offering guidance and feedback - can have an impact on morale that is disproportionate to the actual effort required. It can also give you a crucial sense of the pulse of the organization as a whole.

These meetings should be scheduled and planned into the leader's calendar, but from the employee's perspective should be unannounced, unexpected and above all positive engagements with the organization's senior executives.

Organizational culture starts from the top. When leaders are seen to be taking an active interest in their teams then junior managers and emerging leaders will likely emulate the behavior. Of course, the reverse is also true - when leaders operate at a distance and issue diktats from the relative isolation of the executive suite they set a tone for other managers that is not always conducive to morale in the wider organization.

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