An organisation’s most valuable asset is its people – right? Wrong.

Peter Osborn

22

March 2021

It’s often said that an organisation’s most valuable asset is its people – but that’s not strictly true. It’s in the spaces between people – in their everyday working relationships – that value is created or destroyed.

This might sound like nitpicking but the difference is crucial.

Let’s say a star performer is recruited to a team or an organisation but no one can stand him. He’s rude, demanding and arrogant – obnoxious. This supposed valuable asset will quickly become an expensive liability.

We see this often in the world of elite sport, mainly because the business of recruitment is done so publicly. A player who’s excelled in one team is bought by another – and flops.

It turns out that they don’t get along with the manager or maybe their new teammates or, in one way or another, simply don’t fit in. In short, it’s the relationships that everyone is able to forge  – or not – that make or break the ability of this player to shine.

The same thing happens all the time in the wider world of work, but usually out of sight except to those most closely involved.

The lost value never created

I once found myself sitting across the dinner table from an elegant young woman who turned out to be a highly qualified research scientist. Her dream, she told me, had been to join the leading research laboratory in her field – and after much hard work and sacrifice she’d achieved it.

Which is when the trouble started.

The people were horrible, she explained. No one welcomed her into her new job, no one offered her any help when she needed it, internal competition was rife – the whole atmosphere was hostile and poisonous. She left within a year.

But what value might she have created, what scientific advances might she have contributed to, had the relationships in that laboratory been more positive and supportive?

This is why the human network of any organisation is actually its most valuable – but often least-valued – asset. And why developing the human touch in that human network is such a low-cost way of producing potentially high-value returns.

The effect of individual relationships

Take a working team of just ten people. It contains 45 one-to-one relationships. So the success of this team depends on the health of those 45 individual relationships.  And clearly, relationships that are rich in qualities like openness, responsibility, respect, accuracy, integrity and consideration will tend to produce positive outcomes.

On the other hand, relationships impeded by less healthy qualities – quick assumptions, complacency, group think, disrespect, status competition and closed-mindedness – will tend to produce less positive outcomes. And cost time, money and aggravation to boot.

It’s not rocket science, is it? It’s common sense. But as is so often the case, common sense isn’t common practice.

Most organisations – most human networks – contain a wide range of relationships and their health or otherwise is usually taken as a fact of life. People get on – or don’t. What can you do?

The answer is ‘a lot.’  You – yes you – are and always will be the central hub in the human network of your working life. You’re also that network’s one and only maintenance person. It’s only you who can develop the tools to increase the health and resilience of all your working relationships, while encouraging the healthy functioning of the relationships around you – if you choose to.

Maybe give just a little bit more?

So why not choose to? Why not identify one relationship this week that you think needs some positive attention and give that person just a little bit more of your time or consideration or respect – whatever the quality it is you think might be lacking in the space between the two of you?

It’s not hard to do. You just have to choose. And when you do, who knows where it might lead? Except, perhaps, to a more enjoyable, more value-creating experience of work – for both of you.

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