When Will Employees REALLY Become Your “Most Important Asset?”

How much does it cost?”

This is a question that I am hit with as I intro my presentation. It literally takes my breath away. My response is we can discuss that after I am finished.

But, I need a change in mindset from cost to expense. If you look at employee development as an expense, I may be wasting both of our times.

This approach took courage, but after a while, I realized that if that is the way that executives look at engagement, I know that I am in the wrong place.

A few statistics we all need to consider

This takes me back the notion that employees are our “greatest or most important asset.” Are they really? Those buzzwords should be outlawed.

If you are a reporter, reframe your questions in a way that would ask them how they arrived at that conclusion. Then follow up with asking them how much of that value is invested in their development and engagement. Ask them to describe the culture within, and if they get that far, ask them how would their employees feel if they saw this interview?  Would they think it is credible?

I just finished reading the MetLife UAE Employee Benefits Study and a few stats stuck out but did not surprise me.

  • Some 63 percent of employers feel strongly that their company is a “great place to work” [their term].
  • However, 43 percent think not; they feel their organization is not such a great place to work.
  • A solid 65 percent of employers feel that they are loyal to their employers, but again, only 38 percent of employees agree.
  • The knockout punch in this expat driven market is that 39 percent have a “strong hope” that they will be working for another company in the next few years.

When I am confronted by these figures, it all falls into place.

No shortcut when building value

In order to get a return on any asset, you MUST invest in that asset. There is no other way. It is only with the determination and dedication to your people that your organization can serve your clients or customers. That is the only way that you can generate long-term value for your shareholders and contribute to the broader public good.

That is an equation that can’t be broken. Or as my mother would say, it is like “trying to get water out of a turnip.”

Over the long term, there is no other way for building this value. There are no shortcuts. More importantly, in this new dynamic workforce with the changing demographics, it is just not going to happen unless you invest in them.

However as simple as that sounds, I’m in contact with people who feel that they can simply do an end run around the basics. Just talk the talk and do a few cosmetic initiatives and everything will be fine.

Even something as foundational as having a “revolving door” of talent is not taken as a serious issue. The cost factor and the business case analysis still does not sink in the way that it should.

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Same numbers, different scenario

Let’s turn this around and approach it from the vantage point that you were churning 20-30 percent of your clients each year. Whether it was for a better deal or because they felt they were just not being appreciated, they were heading for the exit door.

Sooner or later, you realize that you have a huge problem. However with this scenario, you would surely realize — eventually — that wholesale changes are the only solution that would put you back on track.  No step would be ignored as you tried to “right this ship.”

The seriousness of the above scenario is the same if your engagement level is low or if your organization is churning employees. But somewhere along the line, someone is not feeling the seriousness of this. Business as usual is the norm.

I had one executive tell me that if employees want to leave, well, that is fine. He said, “I will just hire someone with the same skillset at a cheaper price point.”  I was incredulous that a senior level executive could say such a thing.

When I gave him my take on this, he remarked that “you just care too much, while I don’t.”  That ended the conversation because it was apparent that not only did he not get it but he did not give a s**t.

Lets hope senior leadership can wake up

If you are a senior leader,and your overall employee value proposition does not mean anything to you, you are in serious trouble. If you give credence to the five (5) most overused words without being able to back it up, it is only a matter of time. The clock is ticking on you and your organization, because one day, you will wake up in an enormous sink hole and the end will be near.

So my advice is the next time you enter into a meeting concerning your workforce, do not lead with “how much?”  When you do this you have just told the entire room that you are pretty much clueless.

Take that EVP and those five words they spout from time to time — that employees are your “greatest or most important asset” — and retire them both until you can live up to them for your organization as well as your employees.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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