The Courage to Play the Game

Jac Fitz-enz, who writes about Human Capital, says your job soon will be gone unless you find a way to make a dollars and cents case for keeping it.

April 1, 2000
Courage begins with facing the basic truth of existence; the nasty little secret that we are free. We are what we are and where we are because we have made the choices that got us here.

We've built a very comfortable defense against courage. It is called rationalization. Anything (almost) that contradicts our thinking or frightens us can be explained away. But before we condemn rationalization we have to acknowledge that it is pretty handy.

It gives us time and space to rethink our decisions. The disquieting thing about it is that it must be constantly reinforced. Inevitably we reach a point where, if we can't force the issue totally out of our thoughts as unimportant (rationalize it), we have to admit we were wrong and hopefully change our behavior.

Be careful who you point at. You could be looking in a mirror.

If we are ever to be courageous, we have to acknowledge the incontrovertible fact that we are not a product of our parents, society or church ...or our boss. We are and always have been free to define ourselves no matter what we may have encountered in life. Any belief to the contrary is raw rationalization; the unwillingness to admit that we are self-made. In that vein you might claim you know people who clearly are the products of unskilled labor. But be careful who you point at. You could be looking in a mirror.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that if management of our companies does not see human resources as key contributors to the goals of the organization, there can only be one of two answers. One is that we are not leveraging the resources allocated to us. We are simply spending a budget with no greater value to show for the expense. Two is that we are contributing, but we have failed to show how. We can't rationalize away the situation by claiming that they are stupid. We have not made the sale. In either case we, not they, are the problem.

People continually ask me what percent of HR departments are demonstrating quantitative returns on corporate funds. (They are looking for support for doing it. They want reinforcement...they're followers.) My answer is usually about 20%, or 1 in 5! Does it mean that four out of five HR departments are not leveraging their resources? Definitely!

Leveraging means being able to show that for every dollar invested in human resource programs, the company is getting back more than the dollar, plus the cost of capital. Rationalizing, let's say that no one is asking for hard evidence of leverage. Not true.

That's what outsourcers like Hewitt, Mercer, the Big Five and Exult are pitching.

If you don't think they are a threat to your job, you are rationalizing. Ask yourself. Do you have evidence to show a return on funds invested that is greater than the funds themselves? The outsourcers do and they want your job.

All limits are self-imposed. You are free to choose, even if the choice is painful. So give up the self-limiting idea that you can get by with an 80% effort. To be a fully-functioning being, you must go all the way.

That means it is up to you to gather the information needed to demonstrate return-on-investment. It is now quite clear that the eighty percenters will eventually be outsourced because the outsourcing firms are making the case that they can do the job better and cheaper. If you are in the 80% group, and the odds are 4 out of 5 that you are, your job soon will be gone unless you find a way to make a dollars and cents case for keeping it.

A business exists only so long as it leverages its invested resources. Any action or person who does not do that has no place in a business. Are you going to spend your life rationalizing or do you have the courage step up to the challenge and keep your place in business?

Other columns by Jac Fitz-enz: