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One of the peak moments in my HR career so far was sitting as the only female member of the odd-numbered board of management of this digital marketing agency. As a consultant in the Head of HR role (entitled Head of People and culture), my job was to help the organization fully utilize its human asset. 

The 3-day executive meeting was us reviewing the current year and planning for the new year. During deliberations, I realized we were all coming from different perspectives, but our eyes were fixed on the same goal.  The head of operations and finance wanted cost-saving and more money, the CEO wanted profit, and I wanted the same too (through an improved employee experience).

When we got to the red sea, by name -the two areas of L & D and employee compensation and benefits (salaries especially), I felt like Moses before the red sea. The divergent view on this topic caused me to feel like I stood in a middle ground between what employees demand and what employers want. We have always thought that the interest of employees and employers appear at two extremes of a continuum. But this should not be the case.

After over 16 hours of being exposed to financial statements, I knew this company needed money, but they needed their people more. Our consensus was to expand investment into the employees. People paid more do more because it’s a natural desire to find equilibrium in life. To whom much is given much is expected. The trick is to let your employees pay themselves. How? Empower and engage them to be more productive. Consequently, they earn you enough to pay them (maximally) and still have enough for other investments. You need lean learning and lean management to reduce costs and increase profit.

At another table with business unit leaders, they asked me ‘why should I invest in learning & development (L & D) for my team? What I need is money’. And my answer was simple “Well, that’s exactly why we should invest in L & D.” I realize that we so quickly make employee needs fall under our ‘cost’ when planning but it’s a wrong place to put your most valued asset in your financial plan.

L & D, salaries, and other employee benefits are not costs. They are investments if done right. This is why you need HR experts. You need someone who knows how to help you reap the best ROI on your people. Let your employees pay themselves- this is my simple proposition.

If possible, have an employee stock option, where they can buy shares in your company. You can also build your employees’ entrepreneurial skills by encouraging them to be business owners themselves. Being in this position gives them a better understanding of your plight and their plight altogether.

For companies that still treat labour cost like every other form of expenditure, you are going to extinction soon. Products in the labour market are moving fast towards where they can find growth, fulfilment, and satisfaction. If your employees are still struggling to meet their basic needs (for food, shelter, etc, like in Maslow’s theory of needs), you are making a mistake. In the place where employees feel developed, they develop. In the end, we all care about the bottom line like you, we really do.

Maybe when you start treating your employees like business owners, they will work with you rather than for you. The former is better because they begin to think like you – reducing cost and maximizing profit (just as you want it). Maybe if you start treating your employee like assets than liabilities, they will bring you more returns.

The danger of employee disengagement is disastrous. Start thinking of creating the World’s greatest workplace, it’s a profitable deal.

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