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People are Not Assets 

I can’t even begin to count the number of business leaders who have told me that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. Sometimes they tell me that in response to a question I’ve asked. Many times they volunteer it, in an almost bragging kind of way. 

Gosh I wish that were true. I wish when you watched those business leaders in action you saw that philosophy come to life. That you saw people being cared for, nurtured and developed. That’s what you should do for people. Sadly, most of those business leaders really do treat their people as just another asset. 

But people are not assets. They are people, real life honest to goodness, human beings. 

Back in 2008-2009, during the start of the Great Recession, I had dinner with a friend of mine. He ran one of the best known medical device companies in the world. He often told me that the organization’s people were their greatest asset. He tried at least a half dozen times to hire me, telling me each time what a positive impact I could have on their people. 

The company was formulating a plan to layoff a significant number of people and he seemed genuinely tormented by the idea. I asked if they had considered every alternative to laying people off. He said he thought so. 

I said, “so you’ve ditched the executive perks like company cars, the special section for executives in the cafeteria, fitness club memberships, and the like. His answer belied his “people are our greatest asset” statement. He said those things had indeed been considered but were rejected. He said it didn’t make sense to disrupt the lives of the executive team to save “maybe 10 or 20 jobs.” I’ll bet it would have made sense to the people losing their jobs. 

Somehow I instantly got the feeling that if I had ever taken him up on one of his job offers mine would have been one of those 10 or 20 jobs not worth saving. 

Businesses are predicted to face significant headwinds in 2023. My advice to many business leaders would be to dial back the “people are our greatest asset” line. Because when push comes to shove those assets may be the first thing you decide to do without. That’s not a great look. 

Of course, there may be a chance that your organization is one of the many (thankfully) that still chooses to behave as if your people truly matter more than anything else. Your actions match your words. Not only do your people hear that they matter, they feel it. 

You lead your people rather than manage them. You invest in them. You develop them. You provide them with the best job security of all. You grow them into people who will always be in demand, even if circumstances prevent them from remaining a member of your team. 

As an Authentic Leader you know that words matter. You know that thoughts matter. You know that if you think of your people as an asset, like your building, a computer, or inventory, then that’s how they will be treated. Your thoughts and words shape your actions. That’s how it works for everyone. 

So you see people for what they are. Human beings. That makes a difference in every decision you make. It means that when things get tough you’ll ditch the executive fleet of cars and drive your family Chevy to the levy, even if the levy is dry. 

It means that when you get to the last resort of having to separate with some of your people it will truly be a last resort. Because you know that you don’t actually run a company, you lead people and they run the company. 

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