Putting the ‘human’ back into human capital development.

‘Human capital development’ is such a clinical, impersonal phrase for what is essentially a matter of the human heart. In absolutely every single business, whether you’re a software giant or a sock manufacturer or a spaza shop owner, human capital is your single greatest asset. But it’s not something you can easily quantify or put on your balance sheet. When it comes to the human spirit, you need to proceed with a great deal of intuition, empathy and respect. As former PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico says, ‘the soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.’

And it all begins with your hiring process. You have to hire for the passion, not for the position. So, if you find someone who is inspired and inspiring, who makes you sit up and take notice, you grab them – even if you don’t have a definite place for them in your organisation. You can always make a place for them, or train them into a particular position. When you hire, hire with your heart, and trust your gut. And then train and mentor them so you can help them to discover their strengths and unlock their potential.

And this applies to every hiring decision you make, from the person who sweeps the floors, to the person who is going to be your successor one day. To get the best out of your people, you need to walk the journey with them, from the moment they step through the door. You need to engage with them and help them to carve out their career path. You simply cannot plan their future without them!

But the journey always begins with paying attention. I remember reading an article some years ago on the defining traits of the top Fortune 500 leaders, and what came up again and again was that they knew the absolute minutiae of their employees’ lives, those tiny daily details that matter most to people. They knew which employee’s father was in hospital, who had just won a local Toastmaster’s competition, or who had managed to build a home for their aging parents. These leaders were empaths who would go on regular walkabouts in their organisation, talking to everyone from the security guards to the senior managers.

What those walkabouts are all about is signalling your accessibility, your interest, and your awareness. It’s going beyond an open-door policy to an ‘open mind’ policy. But, more than this, you’re creating a culture where people have the freedom to express themselves. And it’s possible, just possible, that the next great idea for your organisation could come from an unlikely source. Here’s a small example of this at work: we had a security guard who was stationed in the paid parking area of one of our properties. On my visit there, he drew me aside and took me to the back of the building. There was a shared boundary with a major hotel group which was demarcated with massive pot plants. He suggested that we remove the outsize plants so that we could fit in another 13 parking bays. Which we did. And we gave all credit to him. The senior staff would never have seen this, but he did. So, we celebrated his input – and gave him a generous increase.

Which gets me to my next people-promoting point: validation. We all crave it; in fact, one could argue it is as essential as oxygen to the human spirit. We all need acknowledgement and affirmation. So, acknowledge even the smallest achievement and give people recognition where it’s due. Here’s an example of this in action: we had a staff member who was responsible for bringing beverages to our visitors. She was so wonderfully warm and friendly, and she had a knack of knowing exactly what our regular visitors liked to drink, thereby anticipating their needs. When it came to our rewards and recognition nominations at work, she received the most votes from her colleagues. We made a big fuss and celebrated her achievement. By doing this, we not only recognised her, but we naturally motivated others to be the best they can possibly be, no matter their role or so-called importance in the organisation.

And this speaks to another essential element of human capital development. Don’t pigeonhole the people you hire. Every single person in your organisation has the ability to move up. A messenger might become a driver, and someone who works in accounting may be a great multi-tasker who might shine as a portfolio manager. Communicate this potential for mobility to your staff – if they believe they have a chance of promotion, they’ll be motivated.

Finally, the wealth of your organisation is intimately linked to the self-worth of your people. If you value them, they’ll value themselves, and that’s when the magic really happens.

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