While looking for ideas for this week’s post and podcast, I came across a very interesting essay in The New HR Analytics book by Jac Fitz-Enz that I feel is very important in understanding how human capital measurements should be made in terms of linking them to an organization’s return on investment (ROI).
The essay is by Kirk Hallowell titled “Roberta Versus the Inventory Control System: A Case Study in Human Capital Return on Investment”. I’m not going to discuss the actual case study presented in the essay but I want to review the key concepts in the essay as I think they make a great deal of sense in how we should change the way we think about human capital metrics and ROI.
The concepts he discusses identify ways to link an organization’s investments in human capital to their financial returns in the same manner they apply to depreciating or appreciating their tangible assets. Hallowell suggests, and I agree, that accounting metrics and rules need to be modified in order to change the way we think about how we invest in people.
Human Resource costs – recruiting, payroll, benefits, training & development, etc. can typically be a full 70% of an organization’s budget. The fact that most companies don’t have a reliable and consistent method of measuring this much of a company’s budget is concerning to say the least. In addition, human capital costs are always expensed rather than depreciated. This prevents the organization’s leadership from effectively managing and maximizing their human capital return on investment the same way they do with their other tangible asset investments.
When a company invests in their tangible and people assets, they do so with the goal of achieving the same business results but the way the company processes the accounting for each investment is completely different. Human capital costs are expensed and immediately impact the company’s balance sheet while investments in tangible assets (physical plants, equipment, etc.) are listed as assets and depreciated for up to 30 years.
The result? The tangible assets, which are typically a much greater investment, are recognized as a significantly lower expense on the company’s balance sheet than an initial investment in human capital expenses.
As tangible assets age, they decrease in value and within a certain period of time, they lose all of their value and will need to be replaced. These tangible assets will require maintenance and utility costs to keep them from deteriorating too quickly.
Unlike tangible assets, human capital assets actually increases in value over time. Employees gain experience, expertise, and knowledge becoming more efficient through their work and training. Effective training and management will make the company’s operations more efficient and employees will increase their ability to add value to the organization’s operations. This will happen while the company’s investment in salary, benefits, administration, and training remains more or less consistent.
The return on investment for organizations is always driven by their people but the investment is listed as a nondepreciated expense. Crazy. We have our most valuable asset, our people. We invest in finding the best people we can, train and develop them, and as a result the value of that asset actually increases! But we treat it simply as an expense rather than an actual appreciating asset!
Hallowell’s solution is to introduce four human capital metrics that will track the return on investment in both the tangible and human capital assets. The four metrics are designed to be event driven, clear and easy to understand, and focus on the highest points of leverage for gain or loss of ROI.
I will explore these four human capital metrics in next week’s post and podcast. This post is a little shorter than usual but if I include the four metrics, it becomes too large of a post so I decided to split this topic into two parts.
Please take this week’s survey, located at the top of the sidebar, about this week’s subject of linking human capital measurements to ROI!