“Bay, we hired you to be a bean-counter. Stick to counting the beans!” My boss’ words sprang immediately to mind as a startling response to the conference speaker’s statement “Our people are our greatest assets.” As the Financial Controller and thus a senior manager in a multi-billion dollar organisation I had found them humiliating, but it was only a few years later that I had felt their full-effect. That was when I watched another bank achieve stupendous success with the identical product and realised the scale of the opportunity that had slipped through my fingers. For the first time I had truly understood my headmaster’s words, “The two most tragic words in the English language are ‘if only’.” (In fact they – or their equivalent – are the most tragic words in any language.)
- If only my manager had not been such a jerk.
- If only he had been more open to new ideas.
- If only I had been more assertive and stood up more for the idea.
Any of these would likely later have saved my job and might ultimately even have saved the company. Certainly my life would subsequently have been more comfortable!
By this time I had long recognised that there was no use crying over spilled milk. That is why I was rather surprised as it all came rushing back on this occasion. I found myself wondering how many other people there were out there who had had good ideas rejected that ultimately made a fortune for someone else, or – even worse – had been lost altogether. What, I wondered, would be the total value of all these lost opportunities?
Mulling over that, I also recalled the company closing down its Private Banking function and making redundant everyone who worked in that division. Nothing unusual about that you might say. No, but in this case, when setting up the function, the company had transferred its top 10% performers to work there. Thus, with this drastic step, the company effectively laid off its best assets! It struck me that the concept of people as assets was a rather ubiquitous cliché that had little or no meaning.
Thinking about these experiences, and my twenty-five career as a Chartered Accountant in auditing, financial management, consulting and change management, I realised just how fraudulent that statement about people as assets was. Furthermore it would never be possible to treat people as assets as long as we continued to account for them as a cost. In a flash of insight I saw that IT investment and other change initiatives had possibly never realised their full benefits or ROI because, invariably top-down, they are imposed on people who have little or no involvement in the decision and minimal personal benefit from their introduction. To exacerbate matters, all too often these people are the real experts with the capability to contribute useful ideas that may be completely missed.
That was in 2003, and I founded Zealise then as part of a quest to change the way organisations think about people and to try to reduce the “Human Economic Waste” associated with:-
- Failing to recognise that good ideas were not the sole prerogative of senior management;
- Missed opportunities because of ‘blinkered’ short-term thinking;
- Unfulfilled lives;
- Disengaged employees going through the motions and thereby short-changing themselves and their employers.
Building on this, and a passionate interest in people management and incentive remuneration, I wrote “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” identifying the need to value and account for people as human assets as an essential requirement to change behaviour that stems from historically accounting for them as a costs. After publishing in 2004 I took up my own challenge and developed a formula for valuing people as assets. This forms the core, unique enabling service that I now offer through Zealise, and necessitated publishing the Third Edition in 2009.
It goes without saying that a desire to reduce the risk of others experiencing the kind of rejection that I had was a major motivation for me. That, however, is only a part of it. Such rejection clearly comes at a huge personal cost, but the associated human economic waste is not only personal: it has a multiplier effect throughout the employer organisation too. After all, it should go without saying; “The more happy, fulfilled and successful people an organisation employs, the happier, more fulfilling and more successful the organisation will be.”
Yet the low levels of employee engagement that surveys reveal clearly indicate that people are not happy in their work. This means there is considerable human micro-economic waste. So it follows that there has to be massive human macro-economic waste. You can only imagine what this costs!
You therefore have to ask yourself, “What is causing this massive disaffection?”
Arguably one factor has to be the increasing demands of the workplace, and the consequent pressure on jobs that result from efforts to keep employment costs down. This means that generally the individual is only judged as good as their last performance review and thus the feel-good factor is diminished as work becomes less and less humane.
This was both exemplified and exacerbated by the banking crisis of 2008. And, while things ostensibly appear to be improving, for the man on the street facing continuing, declining living standard things remain tough. Naturally this means that dissatisfaction and discontent are never far from the surface, but it also means that people are more sceptical and beginning to challenge things more. One of the things that they are beginning to question is government and how government is using resources.
I have to confess that I consider this to be a good thing. You see as a migrant who has had to start fresh in 3 different countries, I have always been aware of the proportion of my earnings that have been taken from me in tax. Every bean that I have foregone has been has been one that I could have (better?) spent on my only family’s needs. Consequently I have never, for an instant, forgotten that the taxpayer is “the bank of last resort” for government. Thus I have been watching recent history with considerable trepidation.
It is this concern that has prompted me to write my other books, not just as a rant against events, but as an attempt to put forward some sensible ideas that could be foundations for building more effective solutions. The fact that I have moved so much is perhaps evidence of the fact that I always have an eye on the future. However, rather like changing jobs, one should only do it when one feels one can add more value somewhere else. While I have always looked to “make a difference” and not just run away, this desire has permeated my thinking even more in my latest efforts, while the fact that I am getting older, has perhaps made it even more important that I leave a legacy of having at least tried to find answers, and not only being a critic.
Thus I published “A Feeling of Worth” in 2009 as a response to the all too predictable 2008 banking crisis and the extent to which personal and organisational integrity had been eroded, and how people turned a blind eye to the signals. The ultimate struggle in life has to be the balance been self-interest and social responsibility and I was concerned that the exaggerated self-interest of the eighties had resulted in an abdication of social responsibilities and a delegation of these to “government” with the unforeseen and unintended consequence of a decline in our own sense of self-worth and a subsequent downward spiral in our collective consciousness and evidenced by the moral depravity evidenced by the widespread UK riots. The banking crisis was an indication of how destructive the treadmill of the quest for greater profits had become and the extent to which this had spread to our personal lives and contaminated our values, judgments and behaviour and as a result was fraying the fabric of society. Thus I attempted to illustrate the need for deeper solutions – total solutions – that would help restore this sense of self-worth.
In the process I argued that it did not make sense for already over-borrowed governments to bail out the banks. It would seem that this has been borne out by subsequent national debt crises, both in the US and Europe, where the full effects have yet to be felt. Thus The Democracy Delusion is an attempt to revisit some of those issues and make a clearer pitch at presenting viable solutions that will mitigate the threats we face and enable a future that would be considerably brighter than the one we face if we continue down the path we are currently treading.
That is as far as my story goes. You – and history – will have to be the judge of these ideas and their value. In presenting them I have done what I can to not only envisage, but hopefully to also enable a brighter future and to leave my children and grandchildren something worthwhile to build on. I can do no more.