THE MAGAZINE

Your Human Assets are Teaming with Possibilities

By Sherry Harowitz

Back in the 1950s, economists predicted that China and other Asian countries would have major problems growing their economies because they lacked natural resources. We were "dead wrong," acknowledged economist and Nobel Laureate Michael Spence in a recent interview with Russ Roberts, professor of economics at George Mason University. "The reason was we underestimated the value attached to the human resources if properly developed," Spence said.
 
That underestimation continues to be the downfall of many companies despite lip service to the contrary.
 
"Our people are our best asset." Everyone says that. Perhaps they even believe it. But company policies and management practices often don't convey an appreciation of that asset or, worse, they have the effect of making that asset less productive, which gets to the "if properly developed" component.
 
So what can a security manager or someone running a security company do to get the most "bang for the buck" out of their people power?
 
"You've got to find some way to keep everybody going in productive directions when you're not in the room," Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, a leading social gaming Internet company, told The New York Times. His solution: He told employees they had to decide what they were CEO of. This gave everyone, from the receptionist on up, a sense of empowerment and responsibility. More importantly, he showed by his actions that he meant it. He was giving them authority, not just going through the motions. When the receptionist said the company had outgrown the phone system, he figured she knew most about what would be needed to solve the problem, so he let her do just that, making the selection of a new system her project. Pincus says it was a learning experience for him that she rose to the occasion, and he learned that "if you give people really big jobs to the point that they're scared…they improve their game much faster." She now runs the office.
 
Another key to getting return on the human asset is to take some time to learn what each member of the team does. Sounds obvious, but many managers, especially higher up the ladder, don’t understand what skills make each person good at their job and what skills are underused—all of which can lead to a mismatch of assignments or less-than-optimal skill grouping on teams.
 
It’s also important to encourage collaboration across silos as a means of improving everyone’s potential. That's especially relevant with security managers working "convergently" with IT, HR, legal, risk, privacy, life-safety, and other disciplines.
 
It may be simpler to work without collaboration, but as Spence, who collaborates with industry and government, noted, he has come to appreciate “how many different kinds of skills and capabilities and imaginations and intellects” it takes to make any venture succeed.

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