The people are the organisation

Posted by  Mark Schenk —October 7, 2006
Filed in Communication, Leadership Posts


It is the most ubiquitous platitude of corporate life: “People are our most important asset.” The undeniable reality, of course, is that the human side of enterprise remains the ultimate backwater. Be honest: How many companies do you know that are as creative, as disciplined, as businesslike about the people factor in business as they are about finance, engineering, marketing?

I came across this statement (and question) in the Maverick’s Manifesto circulated in the latest ChangeThis newsletter (which never fails to provide valuable insights). One of Anecdote’s motivations is to bring humanity back into our organisations and thus our methods are designed to help create the conditions to achieve this. There are many people we speak to about what we do who’s eyes glaze over when we mention topics like sensemaking, business narrative, storytelling, open space, communities of practice etc. There are also many, the early adopters, who’s eyes light up. They realise that they need to be able to answer the question ‘why would great people want to join the organisation’ and they understand that you don’t get happy customers from having unhappy, unfulfilled staff.

While I am often surprised at the number of managers I meet who just don’t get that ‘the people are the organisation’, we are fortunate that our work brings us into contact with organisations that are serious about the people factor. This reinforces our optimism that having fulfilling and humane organisations will eventually ‘go mainstream’.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. ken says:

    How delicious that sensemaking doesn’t make sense, in a glazed kind of way.
    In Sources Of Power it’s noted that if an employee of many years took a computer out of the workplace they would be stopped, but Cost Cutting is quite happy to let them go, taking all their Corporate Memory away for good. To nominalise them as assets seems to reduce them to a Dawkinsian Meat Machine. The Art of The Start puts a nice spin on it, we need to (re)recruit them every day.
    Asset, as a financial metaphor, lets us check the evidence frame, comparing east/west, spiritual/rational approaches. We see the rational, by the books Cost Control of GM, Sloan (and Creative Accounting of ENRON et al) compared with Toyota’s philosophy of Eliminate Waste, but balanced by respect for the people in the loop. I’m not sure if it was Ohno who said it, but the biggest “waste” is “not fully utilising peoples talents”. One seems to add value, the other resembles an unchecked loop out of control.
    Andrew talked, in the post you cite, of food as a metaphor: Philip Zimabardo’s bitter sweet quote seems oddly appropriate “You can’t be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel”. Within the context of his research, decades ago, and what we see on the nightly news, it has a deep resonance. We reap what we sow? Samsara? Gitmo?

  2. Nerida Hart says:

    Great insight Mark – it is a pity many managers don’t understand that people do the work and if they are not happy the work won’t get done with the passion and commitment it deserves. So many managers think that getting the processes and systems in place will fix a problem without truly understanding human motivation and values which can completely undermine the so called best systems and processes.

  3. Mark says:

    Hi Ken. Thanks for reminding me of Guy Kawasaki’s great insight about needing to (re) recruit people evey day. The art of the start has influenced our thinking considerably. You also mention respect and I think organisations that do well in the longer term behave in ways that demonstrate respect for the individual.
    Yet, I had a conversation this evening about how authoritarian managers (I don’t consider them to be leaders) that display an apalling lack of respect for their staff can dramatically improve organisational performance. In some cases it is a case of the organisation performing in spite of their leaders, but not so all the time. Hmmm. Its a complex issue 🙂

  4. Mark says:

    And here is something from David Maister that is very relevant to this discussion

  5. andrew campbell says:

    i guess you’ve read Kleiner’s Core Group book ? A main tenet of which is the debunking of this myth that org’s propogate – that its people are its most valued asset.

  6. Imagine an Organization Without People

    Kind of hard, huh? There’s a good post on Anecdote that links to a manifesto on Change This. It’s a reminder that the keys to mastering change and creating an environment for innovation are leadership and people who can ride the ragged edge…

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