Our employees are our greatest asset (ish)

Has there ever been a more trite and overused phrase?

I tweeted this cartoon from Dilbert this morning. The speed of the retweets suggested I’m not the only one who sees the humour and the contradiction within the turn of phrase.

dilbert asset

I actually don’t agree that employees are your greatest asset.  Partly because I fundamentally dislike the notion of people being defined as an asset at all.  But more importantly, because I believe that for most businesses, customers are your biggest asset.  Because without them, there are no employees and there is no business.  That doesn’t mean I don’t see the huge value in people, of course I do.  And I also recognise the critical link between the customer and the employee.

But the phrase has by its overuse, become almost meaningless.  Many people trot it out, but scratch the surface and you often find a big gap between say and do.


Years ago, I worked for a recruitment agency that was fond of saying that their people were their greatest asset.  But what they really meant was the people that bill the most are our greatest asset.  We worked excessive hours, were expected to pick up the phone at any time of the day or night holidays notwithstanding.  The pay was rubbish, and the benefits no more than the statutory minimum.  There was such a blame culture that you were terrified to go on holiday as you never knew who would steal your clients or stitch you up in  your absence.  Did I feel like I was their greatest asset?  Not so much.

To anyone who states that employees are their biggest asset, I would ask these questions.  Are you paying the Living Wage? How is the work life balance of your people?  What learning and development do you provide them? What is your workplace like to be in, every day? What is your turnover like, and your absence figures too?  How do your employees feel about working for you?  Do you live up to this statement all the time including the difficult times?  Does it apply every day, or just on the website?

Calling your people a great asset is an easy thing to say, but distinctly less easy to live up to.

You really believe your employees are your biggest asset?  Then prove it.  With what you do, not just what you say.

3 thoughts on “Our employees are our greatest asset (ish)

  1. Hi Gem

    Totally agree that customers come first and then the organisation needs people to delight its customers.

    Actions as well as words then critical as you outline in the post. Words though important – Assets = Resources so the potential issue of the “Human Resources” as a title not much help either.

    I quite like Peter Cook’s Punk HR comment about motivation probably not coming from “when the HR department places a ‘People are our greatest asset’ plaque in every toilet cubicle.”

    Perhaps the key thing here is to take a more outcome focused external view “how do we grow the business together” than internally hierarchical focused input – we will do it to you”.

    And then how many organisation operate from that position?


  2. Love the post and is certainly something that I have been thinking about, what does it mean to say that your employees are your greatest asset and his do you live that everyday. It’s a pretty bold statement if you take the time to think about it.

  3. Nicely done Gem. I remember sitting next to you when Lord John Browne said “CEOs who say people are their most important concern should reflect that in their diaries“ at HR Event.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s