People Matter Blog

People Matter Blog

Opinions expressed on this blog reflect the writer’s views and not the position of the Capgemini Group

Are People our biggest asset?

Category : People Risk
After reading Rick’s insightful article on People Risk it prompted the following question to my mind:  Are People our biggest asset? Or do well-established Global firms want us to believe we are their biggest asset to boost our motivation and dedication to work? In today’s economic climate, can we say that there is nothing more valuable for a firm than its People?

As we hear daily on the news, Global firms do not hesitate to go through massive redundancy programmes and never look back, often replacing their “so called” biggest asset with machines. To be “politically correct” they might invite those people they just laid off to join their Alumni club in the hope that they can take some of that guilt away.  Companies constantly lobby the government, demanding a more flexible labour market.  In the UK and USA the government complies; whereas in France - where stricter labour laws create labour market inflexibility - we see that the Hexagon has become the Business ‘sick-man of Europe’. As a result we also see a developing trend where both employees and employers show diminishing loyalty to one another with employees changing jobs with greater frequency. To me, if People are our biggest asset then the whole Corporate model – in a globalised industry – is to be rethought. But let’s not fool ourselves; when the engine of Globalisation is fuelled with capitalism at the heart of corporate cultures, then what comes very high on CEOs’ agenda is driving higher profitability and becoming more competitive. So if this means – as I said – to replace people by machines or systems and outsource a department to reduce costs then it is very likely to happen. People unfortunately – probably more at operational level than strategic – are seen as disposable assets which can be replaced. How often have I heard that: “no one is indispensable”! So the question is: what is indispensable? And if we find out what it is a firm desperately needs in order to create value and exist then I guess we obtain our answer.

This is a very controversial topic but I decided to take the plunge and define what I believe is the biggest indispensable asset to Organisations – using as a benchmark my Consulting experience and the various Global cross-industry environments I worked in across 4 continents and 14 countries. Knowing that an asset is anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value, we can surely say that People – being tangible assets – can drive value for a limited period of time. But is there anything else that would be intangible and could potentially drive even higher value for a longer time? The answer is yes and, for me, Brand Value is an organisation's greatest asset.  To sustain corporate value over time we should acknowledge that our people will not last forever, and focus on brand value as the most powerful tool to create and sustain lasting value. It’s easy to highlight the big numbers of Coca Cola™, with a brand value of $77.8 Billion, or Apple, with $76.5 Billion. This shows how powerful the brand value can be and these will be expected to last longer than their People ever will! In other words, the Brand is the engine and the People its fuel!

In business, developing a brand is not an optional activity. Every conversation, interaction and transaction we make with our clients creates an impression for better or worse. We tend to adhere to the values our firm asks us to promote proudly and we adapt our behaviour and code of conduct to align them to the culture of the organisation we join – all this to protect our brand and its reputation. As Rick says “People will do what they think the company expects them to do” which bears witness to the fact that our way of working is driven by our brand and what it means to us. Whether a company ranks amongst the leaders of industry, or carves a niche in a neighbourhood, the strength of the brand will filter down into all facets of marketing communication and advertising. The quality of the brand will reinforce or weaken every marketing channel and cash spent promoting our core business. Thus, although People have a very important role to play in establishing and protecting the brand, the latter remains at the heart of our company’s success and heritage – making it our greatest asset which needs to grow and live on…

About the author

Julien Raad
Julien Raad
Julien is a Senior Consultant in the Finance & Employee Transformation practice with Strategy & Change Management expertise. He has significant international experience across 14 countries in Europe, Asia, Middle-East and America spanning a wide range of industries in the public, financial and private sectors. He led global project streams around HR transformation, end-to-end Supply Chain optimisation and business-to-business strategy reviews. Julien enjoys Global challenges and constantly looks at diversifying his client portfolio and assignments.
3 Comments Leave a comment
I find this blog challenging and not a viewpoint I can agree with. I accept there is value in the brand but not that it is the most important part of a company. Firstly, I think brand is ambiguous and vague and can mean anything from the reliability and functionality of products to how an organisation may respond to the tax requirements (or tax implications) of a country. Secondly, I'm concerned about the view that people have become transactional and commoditised. This is not a view I share, if it was I wouldn't value change management, organisational culture and the importance of the psychological contract. Finally, in a time when this country considers the impact and legacy of Thatcher, it's become apparent to me that society and communities exist and most often that is because of the localism as well as globalism of organisations. Organisations that do not acknowledge the positive value of their people as a priority is short termism and I think they will fail (or at least need to do a u-turn!).
I liked this blog, and I think that it is important that people challenge the embedded business status quo. I tend to agree with both Julien and Nicole and would argue, as Julien pointed out, that an organisations’ Brand and its people have a symbiotic relationship. What is a brand? It is more than a logo. A brand is a unique set of core values that differentiates the company from its rivals. People have a relationship with those brand values, whether as employee or customer the brand interacts with their idea of ‘self’. Therefore, people will want to work for a brand that aligns with their own values, and customers will support a brand based on those values. To take an extreme example, Greenpeace has a very strong set of Brand Values; it attracts employees and customers (supporters) with those same values. Those brand values guide the Greenpeace activists as to how to behave, what risks to take, and how to present themselves on TV. Without the activists Greenpeace would be nothing, without the guiding brand values the activists would be nothing. A second point that I would like to make is that Brand Value – has a place on the balance sheet of a corporation under ‘intangible assets’. The tacit knowledge that people have, their creativity and their idea generation does not appear under the ‘intangible assets’ column, and so it is difficult to compare like with like. But imagine for a moment, if Apple didn’t have Jonathan Ive, or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream didn’t have well....Ben and Jerry. These brands would not have become the brands they are today without the people.
julraad's picture
Thanks Nicole and Matt for your comments! I believe what transpires here is the need to define what the Brand really means for us. As you said Matt, I also believe the brand is the foundation of an organisation and it represents our core values and corporate culture. I also agree that without Steve Jobs Apple wouldn’t be what it is today, but in the context of well-established global firms the brand will end up taking over its founder(s) long after he or she is gone. In that respect, and although people remain very important assets to an organisation, growing and protecting the brand (at all costs) is what the Globalisation model has been leaning towards, even more so during the economic downturn.

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