Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Human Capital as an investment

[This post is a continuation of my previous posts "Social accountability in Human Capital Management" and "Global cost of a human being", posted on March 18th and 21st. You may want to read them in sequence]

Looking at the facts in this light, the Human Capital as an investment done by private citizens, but the true ROI is for society at large.

Hold that thought! As HR professionals, doesn’t that mean that we are ipso facto accountable for the sustainability and for the development of such a valuable resource?

When an investment is deemed valuable, it has to be protected, grown and developed. It is true for industries, for commerce, and it still holds true in regard to Human Capital.

A city, a country, a nation supports its people, educate its children, looks after their health. Some of the smartest and most skilled HR people are actually working in public office, and I don’t believe a public officer could or should be ignorant of HR practices.

Leveraging to the full the human capital, and managing it correctly in a civic, ethical sense, means giving to all the employees the opportunities they deserve. Not because we are being NICE, but because we want to capture the human and monetary value of the skills, experience and knowledge of diverse people, developed at high cost by our education system, families and life styles. In these terms, we have to look at employees as an asset to maximize, not as a mere cost that has to be minimized to increase revenues.[1]

As an example, I’ve always wondered why women who have been head of a households with multiple children and handled the challenges of managing a complex family life and budget, are suddenly handicapped by that role once they return (or start) on the work place. Worse, in most countries their earnings are dramatically lower than women without families and without children! [2] Of course, there are practical reasons while statistics show such a difference – part time, less investment in a career… but isn’t it time we find ways to value and leverage the skills they have gained? Would it really be different if women had gained those skills while being employed as an executive assistant or as a manager, rather than by supporting their own families?

Diversity programs are not a nice to have. I am making the case of women here, but diversity has multiple facets, each bringing in clear wins. The challenge of diversity isn’t any more to allow everybody to have a voice, but to leverage and recognize the value it brings. In fact, the relevancy and value of the human capital is closely tied to the multiplicity of voices, of ideas, of experiences it offers. Squandering it spoils the most valuable asset a nation has, and at the same time the nation’s ultimate reason for existence: its own citizens.

And it must all be a win,win,win. If society wins, if the company wins, the employee must win as well. The answer to the “what’s in it for me” question must stay at the forefront of our mind in order to put in place a successful program. If any of the three protagonists doesn’t get a cookie, their interest will wane.

Perhaps an example can help.

Let’s take a real example, rather than an abstract. Johnson Precision (NH) is a manufacturer of precision plastic injection components, where a special-needs workers program has been put in place to integrate them in the workplace, supporting non-traditional employees to work side-by-side with their co-workers in every department, with the same expectations as everybody else. The wins are on all sides. On the employees side, special-needs workers received training and a good pay, while “traditional” employees gain confidence and proficiency by training the new comers. The company gained not only tax benefits (yay), but also credibility with customers for its social responsibility, as well as long term, productive employees. And society? Ensuring integration of special needs citizens is a pain point, and such a program helps to make them productive and self-supported.  

In return, the win, win, win results gained the program a top-down endorsement that is ensuring its continuation and potentially its expansion. [3]

That is the value that HR can bring. Know your employees, know your data and forecast the changes

Where else has this blog been published, or The little Blog that Could

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Global cost (or value) of a human being

[This post is a continuation of my previous post "Social accountability in Human Capital Management", posted on March 18th. You may want to read them in sequence]

When considering skilled labor a resource, I came up wondering – what is the cost of a resource? Is it simply, in this case, the salary? Or is it actually the cost of the employee providing the service? In other words, can we separate the individual from the service provided?

Typing “Cost of Human Being” in a Google Search Engine generates about 259’000’000 results in under 30 seconds. Most of these results are highly controversial, and bring in ethic debate about cost versus value, genetic research, buying human beings and ultimately, slavery.

There is only some marginal (and humoristic) information about the actual COST of raising an individual in nowadays society: after all, creating a baby is one of the (few) free acts in our modern world, but raising the same is anything but free. It has been calculated that the cost of bringing up a child in the US is close to 300’000 US, not including college (college tuition alone accounts to an average of 160’000 US for an average 4 years degree, College Board, 2011-2012 [4]).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Social Accountability in Human Capital Management

Recently, I seem to keep hearing(and saying myself) the word S-U-S-T-A-I-N-A-B-I-L-T-Y in the context of HR and talent. Looking for an actual definition of the word, I stumbled across multiple jokes and puns, such as:

“It is very hard to be against sustainability. In fact, the less you know about it, the better it sounds.” Robert M. Solow, Sustainability: An Economist’s Perspective [1]

What really is sustainability? 

I am striving for a simple definition, something that I could use to explain it to a young child (because then, I am sure I can understand it…). To me, something can be considered sustainable if the resources required to produce it can be continuously replaced. The Webster dictionary is somewhat aligned: using a resource so that the resource itself is not depleted or permanently damaged.

Sustainability can mean different things inside and outside an organization. In the HR internal context, it means taking a good, hard look at employees as an asset (or a commodity?). As we see more and more companies defining themselves as “knowledge companies” and their employees “Knowledge workers”, storing and exchanging experiences, knowledge and networks, being sustainable means being able to replace human resources in an economical and non-disruptive way – and the more specialized a company is, the more complex this task becomes.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Social medias and personality

We all live multiple lives, as a child, as a teen, as a grown up, as a student, as a family person. Reinventing ourselves is a required skill, and the more we apply it, the more we become proficient in it, the more change - when it comes our way - is not disruptive but constructive. Sometimes opportunities will generate change, and sometimes change will generate opportunities.

Something I love about our social media-connected world is how it is full of AH-HA! moments, at the least expected times and situations. Exactly this happened to me this morning, and for once, it is totally un-related to my daily work, or to my normal occupations in my daily life (mostly drab and boring). Rather it came as a reminder of other times and other passions in some of my previous lives...

While leafing (I love applying old words to new activities, forcing the language to adapt and morph) through Pinterest, I came across a post about ARCHETIZER. The specific Norman Foster's showcased project is IMHO quite stunning, but the website itself is a great time-waster. I would have loved it years back, while studying, living, breathing, reading architecture in College.

Spending some time on it this morning not only brought up some wonderful memories (made even sweeter by the time passed, as the inevitable stress at the end of each project is blurred as a cathartic moment), but it allowed me to feel more complete, by patching together several passions from present and past.