It may be politically correct for employers to say their workers are their greatest asset but, says Jonas Ridderstrile, firms must now ensure a continuous transfusion of talent if they want to stay ahead of the game
What is your company's greatest asset? Today, most managers would probably reply: our people. But nothing could be further from the truth - and I'm not thinking about the Dilbert cartoon where people came in ninth, right behind paper clips. My argument is that human capital must be regarded as a liability. You cannot own people. To succeed in a world where power increasingly belongs to competent individuals, firms must build processes to secure a continuous transfusion and transformation of talent. Executives must become 'humanagers'.
The balance sheet is probably the only 500-year-old supermodel still capable of arousing a few people. But despite its long-lasting allure, it often only captures around 20 per cent of the real value of contemporary companies. Today, knowledge makes all the difference. And just who owns that exactly? George Soros?
Ironically, in our hyper-capitalist times, it turns out that Karl Marx was right. People now control the most critical resources - albeit individually rather than collectively - their own brains. What is crucial at many firms is perhaps not the core competencies so much as the core competents: individuals who make competencies happen.
Competents represent prospective cores rather than retrospective scores. And we find these 'knowledge nomads' all over the map. We find them in sports - Liverpool FC with or without star player Michael Owen; in the media - CNN and Larry King; in business - Bill Gates once said that if 30 people were to leave Microsoft, the company would risk bankruptcy; and we even find them in academia - Harvard Business School and Michael Porter.
While there are clear signs indicating the business community is moving closer to perfect competition in many product/service markets, in the high-end niche of the labour market we are talking about the opposite development. We are being pushed into a world of increasingly imperfect markets.
Core competents are nothing less than 'mobile monopolies', who will stay only as long as organisations can offer them something they want. When this is no longer the case, they will leave to set up their own one-person companies -