We hear it all the time, “People are our greatest assets.” I used to believe it, but over the years I have grown to believe that claim is both false and misguided. The disconnect between words and actions from various leaders continue to make it obvious that we don’t believe it to be true ourselves, for if we did many of us would behave very differently. It is misguided for the simple reason that without an adjective for the subject in such a statement, we are characterizing each member of our team as being of equal value, which is irresponsible, inaccurate, and just plain wrong.

If you wanted to make the statement one that your team could actually believe, I might suggest that you do the following (list limited to top five observations of late):

  • Value Our Time – Start and finish meetings on time. If someone is waiting on you, you are wasting their time. You are acting without consideration for their most precious resource and sending a message that you value your time more than you value theirs.
  • Enforce High Standards – Don’t accept sub-par performance from anyone and do care enough to let someone know when they are missing the mark (juniors, peers, and seniors alike). Your team is watching and by not demanding excellence from each team member, you are letting down the entire team. A team without high standards is not a team to which high performers want to belong.
  • Communicate Clearly – Ensure each member of the team understands how their contribution supports the larger objective and that as many members of your team as practical are aware enough to represent the organization in your absence. When you communicate with your team, you are investing in them, you are helping them to critically consider their contribution, and you are turning a team of leaders into a team that leads.
  • Challenge People – Force those on the team to get outside of their comfort zone so that in time they are ready for increased responsibilities/authorities. The most valued members of any team are those who respond to challenge, who want to contribute in ways that they are not currently, and who want to be part owners in main efforts across the team. Those who do not respond well to challenge deserve the opportunity to demonstrate their authentic lack of motivation, interest, and/or ability.
  • Make it Fun – We spend more of our awake time at work than we do with our families, so don’t make me dread the majority of my day. ¬†Laugh, joke, give deserving teammates standing ovations, create “charge the mound” or “storm the court” moments, encourage creative decor, and attempt to connect on a human level.

If we wanted to make the statement more accurate, we might consider using a qualifier like “motivated”, “passionate”, “capable”, “interested”, or “inspired” to describe the type of people we specifically value. I have always been rather open in admitting that I do not treat all people equally. I default to treating them with the utmost respect and giving them my complete trust and confidence, but over time they make it clear how they deserve to be treated. Many of my colleagues retain my utmost respect, trust, and confidence, but a fair number of them lose all three to varying degrees. For that reason, I believe the statement as used is misguided. Why should we pretend that each member of our team is equally valued? I am not interested in making people FEEL valued, I am interested in ensuring they KNOW I value them. Part of letting those who we value most know how much we appreciate them is by ensuring we take care of them differently than we do those who aren’t meeting our expectations. Blanket statements are intended to be inclusive and strengthen the fabric of a team, but when they are overly inclusive, they devalue the assets we value most. We shouldn’t be overly interested in having people on our team (people are expensive). We ought to concern ourselves with having GREAT people on our team, raising the bar for those who are yet to be great, and helping those who don’t care to be great find another team to bring down.

Unless our actions are truly demonstrating our strong commitment to this overused statement and our team is so strong that we believe qualifying the type of people we value most is unnecessary, we ought to think a little more about how we use it. Every meeting we bump, every genuine conversation we choose not to have, every piece of potentially valuable information we fail to share, every standard we choose not to enforce, and every growth opportunity we deny undermines that statement.

  • What do you believe to be your team’s greatest asset?
  • How do we demonstrate to others that we value them?
  • What must we do in order to earn the right to declare that people are our greatest asset and have it actually ring true?