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The Newest Case for Human Capital

By: Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE

Eileen McDargh is a Hall of Fame professional speaker, management consultant, resiliency expert and top thought-leader in leadership.  Visit The Resilient Spirit at to get her free quarterly e-zine, read her blog and articles.  Read the testimonials from hundreds of satisfied clients from all over the globe and hire her to keynote at your next meeting or facilitate your next retreat.

The United Kingdom-based Institute of Personnel and Development recently released a study showing that investing in people rather than technology makes a far greater contribution to an organization's bottom line. The seven-year study of more than 100 medium-sized companies found that the way people are managed and developed accounts for 19 percent of the variation in profitability between companies and 18 percent of the productivity difference. R&D accounted for only 8% percent of the variation in profitability between companies and 6 percent of the difference in productivity while new technology, quality and competitive strategies each accounted for 1 percent difference1. In short, meaningful results don't come in a plug-and-play box. Rather, engaging the contribution and talents of employees is the true, sustainable key to long-term success.

What does it take for engagement? It takes conversation. Not too ago, the mantra was "stop talking and get to work." May I suggest that the new rallying cry is, "Start talking and get to work." As technology distances us from each other, we need to find ways to have extended, meaningful interactions which allow people to voice concerns, feelings, opinion, ideas, and questions. Relationship first has risen to challenge the old task orientation. Employees want to share attitudes, beliefs, as well as workspace. Conversations begin with employee orientation and progress through a variety of programs, forums, and focused retreats. Conversations center around contribution, concerns, outcomes, and yes, fun.

Let me give you some examples. Greet Street, a maker of greeting cards over the web hands, a new employee their "desk in a box". You set up your own phone, computer and then literally start wandering the halls to talk with people. You can sit in on any meetings, make connections and finally, you create your own job title to reflect what you will bring to the company. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, a $6 billion networking giant, hosts a monthly birthday breakfast. The purpose is not only to celebrate, but to have employees voice opinions, ask tough questions, and for Chambers to find out what's not working. Along these same lines, Richard Block, president of AGI, a printing firm, holds "Stump the President" sessions. Any question is fair game and the employee who asks the most difficult question (as determined by a panel of employees), receives a reward (usually dinner and tickets to a Chicago Bulls game).

While these are some concrete ideas, true engagement is a process of continuously learning how to create a community of diverse talents joined by a shared vision. This comes only with time and clear intention. Lastly, the heart of meaningful conversation and engagement is also a willingness to suspend judgment, to listen without ego, to challenge without malice, and to have a fanatic devotion to maintaining trust. Consider this a lifetime journey. And there are many of us who offer our services as "traveler's aid".

1 Workplace Visions, Jan./Feb 1998. SCHRM

© Copyright 2001 Eileen McDargh

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