Why People are Not Your Greatest Asset

John Commins, September 26, 2011

Ask any CEO, in healthcare or elsewhere, about the secret to success, and not a few will fall back on the tired platitude that “our people are our greatest asset.”

That phrase sets Tom Davenport’s teeth on edge. “That is utterly wrong. People are not assets. People own a very important asset called human capital,” says Davenport, the author of Human Capital: What It Is and Why People Invest It, and the coauthor of Manager Redefined: the Competitive Advantage in the Middle of Your Organization. “The ‘asset’ is an intangible that resides in the heads of employees, not in the bank account or the building of the company,” he says.

This is not just semantics for Davenport, who is a senior consultant at Towers Watson. To him the people-are-assets mindset is indicative of an antiquated management style that views people like office furniture – something to be arranged, inventoried, and occasionally sat on.

“You don’t manage people. You manage assets,” Davenport says.

If you understand that your employees own their own assets, however, you can create the work environment and incentives to get those employees to invest their human capital in your hospital.

Davenport spoke with HealthLeaders Media this month at the 47th Annual Convention & Exposition of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA), in Phoenix, AZ, where he led a discussion on transforming the healthcare workforce.

“The question HR folks should be asking is ‘How can I get people to invest more of their human capital in their job here in this organization?” he says.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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