Human Asset Allocation

by Larry Levin

The phrase “asset allocation” was coined to describe an investment strategy that balances risk and reward. But it has a very different, though equally important, meaning in the context of personnel structures and decisions.

Organizations grow like organisms, sometime healthily, sometimes not. When outsiders look at an org chart for a business, especially those with expertise in structure, they can wrinkle their faces, shake their heads at each other and exclaim, “What were they thinking?”

Surely the misapplication of human resource funds is a common woe within both for-profit and nonprofit companies, It’s so much easier, though, to critique with the benefit of outside perspectives. For leaders already within the organization, how do we recognize what’s happened and how do we rectify the situation?

Blaming a lack of sufficient financial resources is often a crutch in avoiding true change. Another avoidance tactic is to terminate or lay off. No doubt that this is an appropriate response in some circumstances. If the structure isn’t suitable to the needs of the company, however, slashing budget or getting rid of an associate and calling it a day may in fact exacerbate the real issues.

A leader who wants to revamp the allocation of staff resources in a meaningful way might consider focusing on these study areas:

Understand how you got here. What are the historical reasons the group is structured the way it is? Often it will predate you, but sometimes not, and regardless, the reflection will often surprise you in their simplicity. Common ones include: A vastly different strategic plan or direction than presently exists; an opportunistic hire that no longer fits the company’s goals; a replacement for a previous associate that was made without regard to changed direction. The reasons aren’t complex but the accretive effect on organizational function can be enormous.

What are your present goals and accompanying needs? It is essential to focus on what you are trying to accomplish as an organization. This starts with mission, goals and the tasks that derive from them. If you begin with what you are trying to accomplish, you are far more likely to concoct a structure that will meet your expectations. If you try to cram your goals and needs into the shoebox of current structure, you’ve already pushed yourself into a corner.

What tasks and personnel do you need to satisfy your goals? After reviewing your mission and goals, take a blank piece of paper, or a spreadsheet, and map out what your ideal set of tasks and your structure looks like. Don’t even look at your current personnel alignment during this exercise. By all means, put some dollars to it if you’d like, we do live in the real world, after all. The most important part of this component of the process is to know what you would ideally like to do with the resources you reasonably can expect to have.

Which of your personnel meet which of your needs? This is a task that, sadly, many organizations perform either not at all or in a sketchy, two-dimensional way. I was a corporate lawyer for a national retailer and expressed an interest in strategic planning, yet was unceremoniously shunned. Companies often assume that the only tasks an associate can perform are akin to the ones that they’ve already done. Such an approach can overlook opportunities that can both unlock an associate’s potential and, by playing to their strengths, can build longterm loyalty and appreciation. Here at the Jewish Light, we turned a classified ad manager into our production and technology manager, and a part-time sales person into a marketing and event associate. Both have performed yeoman work in their new functions. No question that you want to have a high degree of confidence about the associate’s potential for success in the new area, and assessment tools and services can help you if you lack the expertise or confidence to gauge their ability to make the change.

Map your current associates into your ideal structure. There’s no question this is a tough component of the work. Some will fit within their existing jobs, some into new or different ones. And sadly, some will not fit at all and you’ll need to make necessary changes. But in an era of scant financial resources, a single mismatch of skills with position can bring effectiveness to a screeching halt, or prevent much-needed company improvement. By making skill-matching part of the equation, you are providing the fair and full opportunity to assess an associate’s potential contribution to future success.

Help them help you. Simply because an associate wants to or is capable of making a change within the organization doesn’t mean he or she has the full complement of skills necessary to thrive in a new position. In fact, sometimes more professional development is needed than might be the case in bringing in an outsider. Often times, it’s well worth it, given the associate’s existing knowledge of, and commitment to, the organization.

Reallocating human resources is no panacea. Sometimes money just isn’t there for what you need to accomplish, and other times existing associates are unwilling or unable to effect relevant change. If you simply carry away from this piece that you don’t have to fit your goals into your existing structure; that you can define the set of skills you need to accomplish those goals; and that sometimes you can deploy your existing resources in new ways in furtherance of those goals, you’ll have made progress toward a better, more successful organizational structure.

Larry Levin is the Publisher/CEO of the St. Louis Jewish Light.