Employee Culture: Investor or Assets?

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Our most valuable assets go down the elevators each night.”  Have you ever seen a sign like that posted near an office’s elevators? I used to see them often when I was a sales person serving small and mid-size companies – and they always bothered me. I knew that the message the managers were trying to communicate is that the people were the most important part of the company, not the products, memos, cash, etc. But it always bothered me – because I never saw employees as assets that a company “owns”.

Michael Leimbach, in Employees Are Investors, not Assets (Chief Learning Officer, May 2016), identified the source of my discomfort. So many people complain that employees are no engaged; yet that’s exactly what you’d expect from a perspective that views them as assets. For them to be “engaged” we should see them as investors – actively investing in the company’s growth and their career growth.

The difference is meaningful. When a company wants to increase the value of an asset, it determines what it will take to do that.  Take a rough diamond, cut and polish it to increase its value to the owner; enroll a new employee in a training and development program designed to provide new and enhanced skills and you have a superior performer. In contrast, as an investor, the employee wants to increase his/her own value, by acquiring new and enhanced skills that will make him/her more valuable to the company and for future career prospects.

Referring to people as “talent” has the same connotation as “asset”: other companies may to acquire your assets or talent. In contrast, a company of “investors” offers them valuable experiences from which they can choose how best to grow. Leaders of such companies strive to engage employees to invest their full energy for the creation of personal and company value and success.

So, how do employees in your company see themselves? Are they “shareholders” who choose to invest their energy and talents in a growing company or are they “talent”, hired to use the skills they have for the company for the time being? Remember, investors want a ROI and invest based on a commitment to the future, rather than maximizing the current opportunity.

What do you do to create an “investor” culture as opposed to an “asset” culture? Is the amount of training offered determined by the belief the employees will defect in a few years to a competitors? Or is it focused on maximizing the belief that employees who can increase their skill sets in a culture that welcomes growth, will be engaged and contribute as long as they perceive a ROI for everyone? Share with us your views and experiences!