An aging facility in need of environmental remediation, an overfunded unit producing a product past its prime, or a culture that prizes growth over legal compliance are all examples of potential liabilities an organization might be carrying at any given time. Surely, each of them involves or has involved, people.
At some point a decision was made to put the new offices in that cool defunct warehouse in the old industrial district now teeming with artists and start-ups. And someone choose to ignore the fact that it used to store chemicals or has a nasty mold issue. Or, out of loyalty to people who built a once thriving product line, someone chose to defer the need to innovate and disrupt in the face of declining demand. Finally, that aggressive new leadership who are propelling the organization into the stratosphere, might also be creating a culture that prizes growth at any cost.
Any responsible leader would recognize that the above are all potential liabilities. However, the common mistake is to treat the people as the problem and not the behavior, system, or culture that produced the risk.
Separating the inherent, and potential future worth, of leaders and staff from the decisions they may have made – is the beginning to treating people like assets and not liabilities.
The amazing thing about people is this: unlike the mold in the office basement, aging production machinery, or a fixed timetable for investor returns, all of your people can grow, learn, and change.
It might require different thinking to offload or convert a liability into something valuable. Occasionally, it might also require you to end, switch, or trade some roles in the company. The one thing that’s for certain though, is that the solution will involve the creativity and commitment of people – usually most of the same people that got you into this position in the first place.
If the leadership of your company is struggling to differentiate assets from liabilities during these tumultuous times, start with this: Liabilities have numbers. Assets have names.
Most companies will say publicly that their people are they’re greatest asset. But if the culture and behavior inside the organization treats them as a liability, a company that’s seems “on it” might actually be investing the vicious cycle that starts with blame and ends in failure.
Alternately, if you assume that 99% of the solutions you truly need already exist in the people you greet every day, you’ll approach every person as having inherent worth and just maybe… the solution to that problem that’s been keeping you up at night.
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