You Call Your People WHAT?
Today you are going to think I am on a rant. I am not. I will start with a provocative statement, toss out some facts, share a story and then rest my case. But it might seem like a bit of a rant. Be warned, okay?
Y'know how we all have a set of non-negotiable beliefs in our lives?
Like some people hate Lima Beans. Bleah. Other people gag at the smell of cilantro. And still, others can't abide by lying? Well, there is one piece of a belief that I hate with a passion. And I want you to know about it because by clearing away this belief, I can set the table properly for you. And I gotta warn you. It is a big one. It's been around for a donkey's age.
It's all dealing with the phrase
Our employees are our greatest assets! Our strength lies in our employees! Because those are our greatest and best assets! No asset we have is more valuable than our employees.
We have all read words like these, haven't we? You might even have similar things as your motto. But unfortunately, I suspect for most progressive-thinking managers and leaders worldwide, this is one of those de facto truth bombs we have been conditioned to believe.
The fact is, it is the biggest pile of poppycock ever invented.
Let me tell you why.
An asset is a useful or valuable thing or quality.
Property owned by a person or company is regarded as having value and available to meet debts, commitments, or legacies. In financial accounting terms, an asset is any resource owned by the business. Specifically, anything tangible or intangible that can be owned or controlled to produce value and that is held to deliver positive economic value.
Simply stated, assets represent the value of ownership that can be converted into cash. Furthermore, assets are depreciable. This is because they are written off over a period of time. In other words, they are depreciated or amortized until they no longer have value.
In my experience,
Employees, otherwise known as people, aka human beings, are not 'owned' by corporations. They are not available to meet debts, commitments or legacies. While many will argue that they are controlled (i.e. managed) to produce results, I submit that all employees have the free will to walk away, leave or quit at any time. I am pretty sure the outright selling of persons for the conversion into cash was outlawed centuries ago. And in most countries, the law does not take kindly to people trafficking of any kind.
I've got to tell you; I have never ever met a human being who declined in value as they aged on the job. In 100% of the humans I have ever interacted with, the mature humans had far more knowledge, experience and street smarts than the younger humans.
I will grant you that older humans often have a discouraging and cynical 'been there, seen it all before' attitude, which, without a doubt, can be the most off-putting and annoying part of their personality. However, suppose one makes an effort to see into the vast pool of knowledge, experience and street smarts that await past that tough exterior. In that case, one can immediately see the older employees are vastly more valuable in many ways than the newer models.
Your employees do not form your asset base.
Your employees form your equity base. Your. Equity. Base.
The basic definition of equity is the difference between the value of the assets you own and the value of the liabilities you owe. For example, say your business has assets of $10,200,000 and a total debt load of $200,000. All things being equal, your company has an equity value of $10,000,000. That equity arose from the brainpower, the sweat power and the personpower of your employees.
Sure, you might have had most of the ideas, and you likely did steer the vast majority of those ideas into existence. And yes, we know that your pen, your word and your personal assets probably guaranteed the loans in the early years. BUT it was your employees' brain, sweat and person power that delivered that equity for you. YOUR EQUITY. Your employees are your equity.
Assets can be replaced. Assets are impersonal. Equity needs to be protected. Equity is personal. I will even go so far and say YOUR is priceless.
People are human beings. Human beings are social. They are also social creatures in need of protection and in love with all things personal. Between you and I, at the end of the day, people are priceless. And deserve to be treated as such.
Let me share with you a story that happened in my community.
Very late in the evening last summer, here in my neck of the woods, a 40-year wholesaler of bulbs and cut flowers had a massive fire — so massive the cause was not able to be determined. The damage from the three-day blaze wiped out nearly 70% of its operations. Once the fire was in the 'containment phase', the owners flew into equity protection mode.
Here is the order of their priorities:
- find housing for all the migrant workers because their homes on location were destroyed,
- locate alternative jobs for the migrant workers because their incomes were immediately and negatively impacted,
- send out a 911 call to the community asking for donations for housing and personal supplies to ease the immediate conditions of the impacted workers,
- ensure all employees — local and migrant — were safe, had employment, and adequate support,
- assess the damage to the farming assets and then,
- issue a 911 to the community to borrow tools and implements to keep the remaining greenhouses and crops going as best as possible.
Within 36 hours, all the migrant workers were taken care of, and the company had to temporarily halt ALL the donations because they were overloaded and could not handle the extreme generosity. However, within four days of the blaze, the company was happily shipping its sunflower stock and telling the public where to buy it.
It is impossible to sugarcoat this company's situation — the good news — no loss of lives. The bad news is it takes time, colossal effort, generosity and money to recover from any catastrophe when a business needs to rebuild. No business anywhere wants to endure what this company has and will go through.
However, this company's progress in one year is astounding. In its first note to the public, while the firefighters were still taming the flames, the owners talked about how its root and its foundation had been hit, damaged and needed help. But, do you know what its root and its foundation were? Its employees. That was spelt out in the first line of its very first communique!
Quite clearly, the company's owners understand its employees' actual value.
Making the mental switch from asset to equity is a choice.
For some owners and leaders, it is easy. For others, not so much.
You and I can make that switch readily because we understand it is People first, Profits second. And we appreciate that our employees form a massive part of our equity.
I believe in you. I KNOW you can make the impact you want! I'm here for you when you are ready.