All week I have been thinking about the “Paradox of Work” that I described last week. It seems remarkable, as well as rather ridiculous, that – according to research – people generally run counter to their own experience and seek more leisure time when they actually enjoy their work more. Yet, amazing as that is, it is not the only paradox we encounter in the commercial or business world. There is also the “Paradox of Management.”
The “Paradox of Management” is the widespread practice of referring to employees as “assets” and even as “our most important assets” while following the universal practice of accounting for, managing and treating people solely as costs.
The latent hypocrisy of this approach is seldom recognised. Yes, there have been some efforts to change accounting practices and task forces instituted for this. Invariably, however, these are controversial and end up being delayed or discarded. This begs the question, “Why?” Changing any established convention is difficult and controversial, so what is different here? It is difficult to avoid suspecting that it is because of the fear that it will increase costs. Yet it is quite likely that this helps create the “Paradox of Work.”
This management attitude is the inevitable result of a culture that considers money more important than people. And whether you like it or not, that is the message that is continually being conveyed to your workforce. Every time a company announces staff cutbacks, lay-offs or redundancies or cuts its training budget, there is a subliminal message that, “People don’t matter!” You don’t feel like an asset when that is what you are hearing. And it is difficult to get the best from employees who don’t feel they are valued.
Yet it doesn’t have to be that way: such fear is misguided. As Simon Sinek says in his book “Leaders Eat Last”, “We do not sacrifice excellence or performance by putting people first. Quite the contrary. Such organisations are amongst the most stable, innovative and highly performing in their industries. To see money as subordinate to people and not the other way round is fundamental to creating a culture in which people pull together to advance the business.”
Putting people first is what transforms business. You don’t have to take my word for it: Sinek and countless case studies that prove it. In fact, most significant business transformation results from putting people first. Certainly it is the only way to sustain improved performance and results.
It seems self-evident that the remedy for this management paradox is to stop treating people purely as costs and to start treating them as assets. But this is also the catalyst for putting people first. It builds the principle into everything else the organisation does and is the DNA for transformation. And not just transformation, but sustained transformation!
Nor is valuing people as difficult as history would have you believe. In fact it is the core of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ model. Valuing people as assets is the first step in the model and the foundation for building a culture that ensures optimal individual and organisational performance. After all, as Simon Sinek also says, “It is not the genius at the top that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.”