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Are People Your Most Important Asset? - Not Necessarily!

Aug 17, 2007
Jim Collins in his book "Good to Great" researched companies that were already well regarded to discover what made some of them great. The criteria for great were well defined and the research to uncover how they became great was excellent. The book is a good read.

One of the findings which, in some ways, presents a bit of a challenge is that many of the great companies focused on first getting the "right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus)" before deciding on where to drive it. So, Collins concludes, the answer to the question, are people your most important asset, should be no. The right people are your most important asset.

How do we define the right people if we are not clear on where we are going?

In practice there is probably already a history of what business the organization is in or what it's strengths are so you probably have some idea of where you want to drive it. This may broadly define the type of people you may want on the bus. However, if you are rigorously examining where you should be going and how to get there, you should look closely at whom you involve in that planning exercise. The wrong people will give you the wrong result.

We often make the mistake of insisting people should have industry experience or a background in a certain area whereas there are many examples of people with the right competencies making a successful transition to a new area.

The challenge for existing businesses is this: to carry out effective planning and setting the direction, you need to involve key people. Once the direction is set and objectives identified, the people you need to take you there should become evident.

A workable solution to this is probably to have a clear idea as to what sort of people are required to take the business forward - even though a clear direction has not been set at this stage.

Defining these people may involve identifying some technical skills and industry experience but should also be in terms of other competencies. A useful way of looking at this is to use the Iceberg Model described by Milkovich and Newman in their book "Compensation".

Those elements more easily identifiable are above the water:

Knowledge - Information that a person has in a particular area
Skills - Behavioral demonstration of expertise

Those that are under water and can only be inferred by actions are:

Self-Concepts - Attitudes, values and self-image
Traits - A general disposition to behave in a certain way
Motives - Recurrent thoughts that drive behavior

Psychologists say these three are judged to be the differentiating competencies - critical factors that distinguish superior performance from average performance.

So, getting the right people on the bus before deciding where to drive it must include identifying them and these underwater competencies will be very helpful to cut through the obvious and find real talent that can make a difference.
About the Author
Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group; a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations. www.horizonmg.com
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