People Are Not Your Greatest Asset

Most of my working life I have been in service industry where I have heard repeatedly the popular aphorism, "People are our greatest asset." Some of us may even believe it. But is this sentiment reflected in:

  • the corporate culture of your organization
  • the way your leaders lead

In most cases the answer will be “A big NO!” — and there's a reason for that.

The reason is – People are the greatest asset in most organization only in Word and not in Spirit.

Even brilliant hardworking diligent employee is not the greatest asset. In fact, great workers are the greatest liability. Consider Lehman Brothers. Arguably, it employed some of the smartest business people not only in the room but in the world, and yet those same folks took their firms to ruin (or near it) and came close to causing a collapse of the world economy. What if your great workers chose to leave? Yes, everybody is dispensable. However I guess you get the point.

So for a service industry if it's not people, then what is the greatest asset?

The greatest asset is a person who is EMPOWERED.

EMPOWERED PERSON is the greatest asset.

Think about it. What is the primary purpose of a leader or a business? To assemble a group of people, who previously may have had no association, and empower them to accomplish productive work toward the organization's objectives. More effective empowerment typically equals more productive work. As leaders and managers, we are familiar with empowering people. We organize them into divisions, units, groups and teams. We provide goals and incentives to motivate them. And we enable them with:

  • authority
  • tools
  • resources
  • processes

Empowering people and providing the resources leads to "mass collaboration" and its accompanying behaviours. In absence of empowerment, the most diligent hard working resource might be toiling with poor efficiency. Complied here are the key mass collaboration / empowerment benefits.


1. Collective Intelligence

Collective intelligence is the meaningful assembly of relatively small and incremental community contributions into a larger and coherent accumulation of knowledge. People are brilliant in their domain however when these domain experts combine their knowledge, amazing scalable projects happen.

Collective intelligence is not new, but the mass collaboration enabled by technology provides it at scales never before possible. Even the most modest individual contributions can be tremendously valuable when meaningfully combined at scale. Wikipedia, YouTube and Flickr are all social Web examples of collective intelligence of the common man. Each Wikipedia article by itself is relatively insignificant, but a million articles collected and linked together is highly powerful.

On a more complex level, Linux, Ubuntu, Koha, Moodle, WordPress, Drupal, etc. are such robust platforms purely the beauty of collective intelligence.

Most organizations and groups have endless chatter / email-flow leading to a cacophony and ennui among participants.


2. Selective Intelligence

Selective Intelligence involves seeking and finding specific expertise in the masses of people and the often-staggering amount of available content. "Selective Intelligence” aims not to collect numerous small contributions from many, but to find just what is needed. Crowd sourcing is a well-known example of expertise location.

Most organizations and groups make meaningless associations and forced team-memberships leading to incompetence, free-riding, political and behavioural issues with marginal progress in any direction.


3. Emergent Empowerment

Emergent Empowerment are structures such as processes, content categorization, organizational networks and hidden virtual teams that are unknown or unplanned prior to ‘empowering’ your people, but that form gradually naturally as activity progresses and like-minded individuals unite.

The goal of Emergent Empowerment is to gain a better understanding of the true "nature of things" to more effectively organize, guide or interact with a community or its efforts.

Most organizations and groups treat Emergent Empowered Groups and Individuals as threat to existing setup or process.


4. Interest Fertility

Interest fertility is the forming of communities around a shared interest, with the goal of indirectly deriving enterprise value. Internet and social meetings facilitates the mass sharing of interests like never before. Enterprises often pursue interest cultivation with the aim of engaging employees and customers to enhance product/service utilization and enjoyment and improve delivery.

Such communities are virtually non-existent in  many organizations and groups. At best, one would find a half-yearly get-together where the environment, though intended to be informal, is barely conducive for Interest Fertility.


5. Flash Coordination

Flash coordination involves rapidly organizing the activities of a large number of people through fast and short mass-messaging, often spread virally. By effectively employing flash coordination, enterprises can more quickly marshal a powerful and sophisticated response to an important occurrence.

I have worked in organizations and been part of forums where by the time a group is formed the event, for the which the group was intended, is long over.


6. Emotional Bonds

Emotional Bonds is the practice of effectively managing and deriving value from a prodigious number of relationships. Emotional Bonds strives to maximize the strength of numerous weak ties and the power of unbalanced relationships. Facebook is all about Emotional Bonds. We can keep numerous people up to date on what we are doing and thinking with minimal effort. We only need to respond to those who choose to interact around something we exposed.

We may sacrifice intimacy for scale, but that is the trade-off with Emotional Bonds. Relationship Emotional bonds works on creating a conducive environment and not using the stick or power vested on someone to “Get the Work Done”.

I have worked in organizations where no organized process/team/person is empowered to cater to emotional well being of the environment.


I end this blog with one question each for Leader and Employee.

Leader: How have you empowered your people?

Employee: Are you an Employee on an Empowered Asset?

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