Turning Your Greatest Liability Into Your Greatest Asset

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The Balancing Act

The Delicate Balance
The Delicate Balance of Assets and Liabilities

Operating a business is a balancing act. We have to balance liabilities with assets. We have to balance income with expenditures. We have to balance growth with cost. In this constant turmoil, this dynamic environment that can change in a heartbeat, there is an opportunity for us to take our Biggest Liability and turn it into our Greatest Asset.

People now are thinking cost, cash, consumables, credit, accounts payable etc. But none of those qualify as your biggest liability.

Your Biggest Liability is Your Staff!

Your Greatest Asset, is also Your Staff.

The difference rests on how you treat them.

There was a time when a person went to work for a company, and 45 years later, they retired. It was very common to work your entire career with one single employer. Loyalty was regarded as sacrosanct, both by workers and by employers. Times have changed.

Today it is common for a person to change employers more than seven times in their careers, and to change careers more than once as well. In the 1990’s people stayed with an employer for five to ten years, today we see people hanging around for only two or three years.

The cost to employers is HUGE. It has been estimated that it can cost the equivalent of nine months salary on average to hire a new employee. Higher paying executive and advanced technical positions can cost a company as much as twice the annual salary of that employee. Even high turnover, low skilled jobs cost at least 20% of the annual salary of that employee to hire them. And every time you hire somebody new, you are gambling that they will meld with your team and be productive.

Then there is the problem that when a person leaves, they are taking their experience with them. The longer you can keep an employee, the greater their value to you.

It is a balancing act to maintain a constant workforce that meets the production needs of a company. Keeping too many people on staff gets expensive in the lean times. Firing and hiring is expensive all the time.

Worker Attitude

We keep hearing cliches like “we hire for attitude not for aptitude; skills can be learned”. It sounds wonderful. It has a place in hiring. Unfortunately, it does not matter how happy, jovial and easy-going a person is, if they cannot produce the basic function of their job, they are useless. It quite simply takes time for a person to learn a skill set. The more advanced the skill, the longer it takes.

Here is another little secret that should be obvious, yet many seem oblivious too. The happiest, most optimistic, hardest working individual, will not be that way for long if they feel that they are not appreciated. The corollary to that is the biggest jerk will perform when they are being treated well and given credit for their abilities and performance.

The attitude of the worker depends on the attitude of the employer. That is why it has been said that a person will take a job based on the company, but stay with a job based on the supervisor. If the company and its management does not treat people with respect, the best performers will not perform at their best. The best performers will also look for work elsewhere. Eventually the company will be left with the people who could not find other work, and those workers will not put in a great effort. Worker attitude rests on employer attitude.

If on the other hand we show our appreciation for our employees. If we take the extra step of recognizing their efforts and achievements. If we, as managers, go the extra mile to remove the impediments that prevent people from excelling at what they do. If we take their needs into consideration and make exceptions for them when they have troubles. If we pay them a fair wage with bonuses. If we honestly listen to them, deal with their concerns, and implement their suggestions. Then we will have a positive work force that will excel, that will perform, and that will have our backs when there is trouble.

Investing in Your Assets

Now that we have seen how to take our biggest liability, our people, and turn them into our greatest asset, how do we invest in that asset?

The first way, we have spoken of, give them credit. When they have a genius idea, give them credit for it. When they solve a problem, give them credit for it. Let everyone know what they have done for the company and reward them openly.

The second way to invest in your employees is to mentor them. Maybe not personally, but set up a mentoring program in your business that pairs up junior staff with senior staff. It allows for transfer of knowledge and it builds teamwork and a sense of family.

Next, promote teamwork. Send your office staff out on the shop floor to talk to your production staff. Host regular events, BBQ hamburgers on Friday for them, get them out curling, or playing softball. Work on building true friendships in your plant. Not only will that encourage people to stay, when troubles arise, the people will work together to solve the problems instead of pointing fingers at each other and blaming.

The Fourth step is to invest in their professional development. Send them on courses. Pay for their professional fees. Host lunch-and-learns. Bring in experts to give seminars. And here is a shocker, if your workplace is unionized, sit down with your union representatives outside of normal negotiation periods and ask them what kind of professional development they would like. Send your Shop Steward on a negotiations course for example. It will pay off for you.

Be a Person, not a Title
Be a Person, not a Name or a Title

And the fifth and most important step for investing in your staff is to be present. This goes to the owners, to the Board of Directors, to the Officers. This is especially, but not solely, for the VP’s, the CEO the COO and any other combination of letters that keeps you locked up in an office. It goes for Project Managers, for Supervisors, Foremen, and anyone else charged with looking after people. Be there with them. Show up at your facility. Sit and talk with your people, take notes, get personal. Don’t fake it. Find a reason to genuinely care about each and every person on the payroll. Be a human being to them, not just a name or a title. Start treating them as friends and family and show your personal appreciation.

There have been many books written on this topic. You can take courses and engage consultants to help you. But really, keep it simple and it will work for you. Invest in your people and your biggest liability will become your greatest asset.


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