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By David Harder on April, 6, 2018

Are You A Profit-Maker or an Expense?

It was 1990 and one of the nation’s largest banks was starting to fall apart. A rather visionary human resources executive came to one of our first programs to evaluate whether we could help their employees do more than simply transition into another job. Soon after her attendance hundreds of professionals began showing up. Many used the program as a turning point in their careers. Our internal partner began her relationship with us by participating in the program herself.


During the first day, she began recounting events of the previous year. It began with a disastrous headquarters fire in downtown Los Angeles. She was put in charge of dealing with injured and dead workers. Over 3,000 employees had to be relocated. Challenges at the bank continued to grow and she became responsible for laying off over 2,000 workers. That was followed by another enormous layoff. The holidays arrived and everyone participated in one of those lotteries where everyone gets a number and the gift that corresponded to that number. She received a cheese wheel with a hatchet. Someone at the dining table said, “Isn’t that appropriate.”


I asked, “Did anyone once ask you how you were doing?”


Tears began flowing freely and she whispered, “Of course not, you were supposed to be happy to have a job.”


Traditionally, human resources treated as an expense. The differences of working in a position that is packaged as profit generation versus overhead have a profound impact on the quality of work. One of the ways this shows up in human resources is a tendency to characterize one’s value through activity rather than results. I’ve often characterized the career trajectory of a human resources professional as “losing one’s life through competency.” As a talent professional becomes more capable, he or she is given more problems to solve. But, they are rarely given support systems that match. Human resources, mid-managers, virtually anyone who is out of the profit-making loop will understand exactly what I am suggesting.


In the emerging world of work, shifting all positions into profit centers would revolutionize the workforce and spur new forms of engagement. If anything, the act would require elevating the value of all workers. For example, we were reorganizing the talent of one of California’s most revered luxury brands. In the company, there was a gentleman who was referred to as “The IT Guy.” He fixed people’s computers. But, he also prepared digital advertising that was strikingly beautiful and effective. I opened up our first meeting with a question, “Are you viewed as profit or overhead?” The question panicked him. But, it also opened the door towards changing his outlook on his work. With further exploration, it became clear this was someone who was very gifted who had a keen sense of taste in presenting the company’s offerings to the public with greater elan than the competitors. Within a few months, he was the Director of Digital Marketing. His services were billed out to the various sales professionals he served. We began tracking new business that was generated by his department. It turned out that it was generating the greatest new revenue for the firm. He got a team to help him. Competitors took notice and tried to recruit him. By the end of that year, the consciousness of the firm had shifted and now viewed him as one of their most significant assets. Essentially, the biggest shift was in reinventing his role to one of generating profit.


I held jobs before launching Inspired Work. When I began the game of work, it was very clear that those of us who directly generated income were treated far differently than those who didn’t. I came of age with work during the 80’s. I also came out of the closet as a gay man at a very early age. I did it to support civil rights and making my employer a lot of money bought me protection. In that era, insurance companies routinely pushed benefits departments to get rid of gay men because of the Aids crisis, competitive environments often picked on women and gay men, all to protect turf. But, they steered clear of the sales rock stars. Management had all types of struggles getting used to the idea of someone who was out and treating it as no big deal. But, even the most biased leaders become more agreeable when someone was bringing in a big part of the organization’s income.


What does this missive mean for my readers?


Many of the career choices we make are based on superficial awareness of the various conditions that will lead to fulfillment or something else. How many young people wake up one day and determine they will have a brighter future if they generate revenue? Or, they will have more options if they learn how to sell and draw healthy attention to themselves? The world of work is undergoing revolutionary changes. Technology is taking away task work but the work that emerges is far more interesting. Learning how to connect, sell, influence, build support, and influence others is frightening, especially for those of us who spent a lifetime avoiding attention. But now, these life skills are critical for even those with the simple ambition of staying employed.


Disengagement is the world’s biggest challenge in the workplace. To a certain degree, the chaste system dividing profit makers from overhead play a role. But we can also look to the absence of the very skills that help us connect with others and draw healthy attention to ourselves as the biggest contributor to “the trance.” Parents now have a pressing need to encourage their children to develop sales and presentation skills, to learn how to look people in the eye, to develop empathy and listening ability, to become influencers. Developing these skills in all of us bring new options and make our world easier to live in.


In the last couple of years, many of our participants have launched businesses for the first time. Many of my individual clients are human resource executives who became business owners because they wanted more autonomy and power. We find that as more people realize that to pursue what they really want simply requires new life skills, that giving up the need to be comfortable also surrenders the mediocre work life, they become motivated to learn.


Isn’t it time that we treat everybody as a profit maker?


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


(C) Copyright, 2018, Inspired Work, Inc. – (All Rights Reserved)


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