After reading Rick’s insightful article on People Risk it prompted the following question to my mind:  Are People our biggest asset? Or do well-established Global firms want us to believe we are their biggest asset to boost our motivation and dedication to work? In today’s economic climate, can we say that there is nothing more valuable for a firm than its People?

As we hear daily on the news, Global firms do not hesitate to go through massive redundancy programmes and never look back, often replacing their “so called” biggest asset with machines. To be “politically correct” they might invite those people they just laid off to join their Alumni club in the hope that they can take some of that guilt away.  Companies constantly lobby the government, demanding a more flexible labour market.  In the UK and USA the government complies; whereas in France – where stricter labour laws create labour market inflexibility – we see that the Hexagon has become the Business ‘sick-man of Europe’. As a result we also see a developing trend where both employees and employers show diminishing loyalty to one another with employees changing jobs with greater frequency. To me, if People are our biggest asset then the whole Corporate model – in a globalised industry – is to be rethought. But let’s not fool ourselves; when the engine of Globalisation is fuelled with capitalism at the heart of corporate cultures, then what comes very high on CEOs’ agenda is driving higher profitability and becoming more competitive. So if this means – as I said – to replace people by machines or systems and outsource a department to reduce costs then it is very likely to happen. People unfortunately – probably more at operational level than strategic – are seen as disposable assets which can be replaced. How often have I heard that: “no one is indispensable”! So the question is: what is indispensable? And if we find out what it is a firm desperately needs in order to create value and exist then I guess we obtain our answer.

This is a very controversial topic but I decided to take the plunge and define what I believe is the biggest indispensable asset to Organisations – using as a benchmark my Consulting experience and the various Global cross-industry environments I worked in across 4 continents and 14 countries. Knowing that an asset is anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value, we can surely say that People – being tangible assets – can drive value for a limited period of time. But is there anything else that would be intangible and could potentially drive even higher value for a longer time? The answer is yes and, for me, Brand Value is an organisation’s greatest asset.  To sustain corporate value over time we should acknowledge that our people will not last forever, and focus on brand value as the most powerful tool to create and sustain lasting value. It’s easy to highlight the big numbers of Coca Cola™, with a brand value of $77.8 Billion, or Apple, with $76.5 Billion. This shows how powerful the brand value can be and these will be expected to last longer than their People ever will! In other words, the Brand is the engine and the People its fuel!

In business, developing a brand is not an optional activity. Every conversation, interaction and transaction we make with our clients creates an impression for better or worse. We tend to adhere to the values our firm asks us to promote proudly and we adapt our behaviour and code of conduct to align them to the culture of the organisation we join – all this to protect our brand and its reputation. As Rick says “People will do what they think the company expects them to do” which bears witness to the fact that our way of working is driven by our brand and what it means to us. Whether a company ranks amongst the leaders of industry, or carves a niche in a neighbourhood, the strength of the brand will filter down into all facets of marketing communication and advertising. The quality of the brand will reinforce or weaken every marketing channel and cash spent promoting our core business. Thus, although People have a very important role to play in establishing and protecting the brand, the latter remains at the heart of our company’s success and heritage – making it our greatest asset which needs to grow and live on…