This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.

I am an accountant by designation (don’t hate me!). But in saying that, I tend to approach any job like a balance sheet. While some consider the pros and cons, I think about assets and liabilities.

We talk so often about how our people are our assets – but what does this mean? How do you treat them? How do you recruit, retain, and ultimately transition them? At every stage in their careers our people need training and development, they need to take leave to regenerate, and they need to feel valued if they are to operate at their best.

As a CO during the pandemic years of 2020-21 ‘people’ were my priority. However, COVID became the greatest threat to our business continuity. Thus, a number of important factors came into play – but always at the core of the discussion was ‘our people’. These ‘people’ all have different levels of resilience and it’s important that each of us was getting through the pandemic as best we could. Our people have lives outside of their commitment to service and it is vital we respect those lives and manage our expectations and our pace accordingly.

More than ever, the pandemic has required people to step out of their lives and their troubles to think about others. To realise your people’s potential, you must first step into their world. You must take the time to understand and appreciate where individuals, teams, and the organisation have come from. Once you have established this, then you can begin to shape and influence the collective. Trust and understanding of where the team and organisation need to move to can accelerate and capitalise on the value of individuals and teams.

The personal behaviours that I leveraged, particularly during the height of the pandemic, were perhaps not always comfortable nor common to the traditional leader. I found compassion and empathy important for myself, for my team, and for how we treated each other. Remembering dignity and respect as the foundation to endure, develop, and ultimately thrive in.

Unfortunately, our people at times can be a liability. They can be self-serving, unreasonable, and toxic. A CO needs to be confident in tone and set the standards for professionalism, competence, and respect for all. Leaders need first to recognise and then mitigate any individual or team who are no longer an asset to the organisation. Remaining conscious of dignity and respect while providing clear balancing adjustment to behaviour, values, standards, and expectations can provide people the opportunity to change, develop, and reconnect. Establishing a clear investment in your people, with adjustment as needed, and being prepared to assist in a transition if needed, can address a liability.

The equity built up over time in any organisation can be eroded rapidly through poor leadership, miscalculated intentions, and diminishing key assets. To know your people, you need to know the jobs and the skills required now and into the future. The risk of diminishing corporate knowledge is a real threat each year as our people post or transition out. The liability to rebuild, develop new knowledge, or retrain our people is a very real challenge many are faced with each year. Before you farewell staff, ensure individuals and teams have made conscious, proactive efforts to consolidate the knowledge, processes, and procedures.

Finally, in the seriousness and complexity of world events, it is important to be human. Remember why you and your people serve this nation. Bring back some fun and celebrate the little things.