Here is a part of Henry Mintzberg’s take on How the enterprises trashed the economy and how most economists and analysts don’t get it, including on intangible assets:
Get it about the mass firings of “human resources”. If the CEO is the enterprise, then everyone else is a “human resource”, to be “downsized” en masse at the drop of an earnings report. After all, resources are conveniently dispensed with, especially when the wolves of Wall Street are baying at the door, and need to be thrown the bones of some human resources to quiet them down. But why not: the company can carry on, in the short run, at least until the bonuses are doled out. Unfortunately, the short run has now run out for American enterprise.
At what price these firings? The answers are all around us: in overworked, unappreciated, discouraged and burned out workers and middle managers.
A robust enterprise is not a collection of human resources; it is a community of human beings. How many large American corporations can claim that kind of robustness? Effective strategy, for example, is not about a planning process that comes from the “top” so much as a learning process that can come from anywhere in the enterprise. The key to IKEA’s successful strategy, to take a pointed example, lies in its provision of unassembled furniture that is easily transported. That idea came from a worker who had to take the legs off a table to get it into his car. He was apparently not downsized or discouraged by the leadership of his company.
To put it another way, executives keep saying the “our workers are our most important asset.” Yet, workers are still treated as a cost to be minimized.
Or to put it yet another way, companies value their intellectual property (patents). They don’t seem to extend the same value to the workers who create those assets. Which is more important — the asset or the process of creating the asset (the goose or the golden egg)?
Mintzberg has more to say on the failure of leadership — especially on our infatuation with heroic leadership over engaged management. Read the entire piece.