MRO Magazine

Should we consider humans an asset?

July 18, 2022 | By Mario Cywinski

Photo: © Tiko / Adobe Stock

Photo: © Tiko / Adobe Stock

There has been a lot of discussion around the term “human asset.” Prompted from research by Dr. Monique Beedles, where she questioned the term and the appropriateness of using it based on the definition of an asset in ISO 55000, “an item, thing, or entity that has value or potential value to the organization (ISO, 2014).”

Questions posed on various forums considering the use of “thing” to describe humans, the legal meaning, cultural implications, and while most postings felt the term was appropriate, there was a difference of opinion.
What wasn’t discussed greatly in the conversation was the intent or suitability to word the definition that way. No-one disagreed with the idea that a human “has value or potential value to
the organization.”

Rather than argue about the term, we’ll explore how we could apply the tools and lifecycle approach we use for physical assets, to humans. Let’s walk through the lifecycles and see if we can find how it might apply to humans.

When deciding on the business case for the physical asset, useful tools like skills matrix (showing expertise required to run the business) and competence analysis (showing skills employees already have) within the organization, can be useful. Comparing the two will allow the need for the organization and concept for the position or person to close the shortcoming.


How are we advertising and looking to find the right candidates for each role? Just like ensuring that the end users, operations, and maintenance are involved in physical design, they need to be engaged in preparing the requirements for the job posting. It is common to find roles that don’t reflect the skills required, usually because lack of collaboration and too much focus on technical skills. Whereas there is minimal mention on soft skills, which have proven to be most important in leadership roles.

When purchasing the required asset, there is an interview process. Are we asking the right questions, probing for insights and support for what has been stated on the resumé?

Alternatively, are we asking the same behavioural questions that we have asked candidates for the last three years, for every position at this level? Resumés are the candidates sales pitch, it is where they present highlights and achievements. Is it adequate to accept what it says or should we ask for an expansion on what they did to achieve this?

I remember a candidate claimed to have saved his organization $500,000 by solving a hydraulic problem, only to find that, after probing, he had simply replaced a tank cover. How would you approach an advert for a physical asset and why do anything different for hiring the most suitable candidate?

Operations and maintenance
Everyone must clearly understand their roles and responsibilities; they need to know how they are being measured and more importantly why it is an important measure. It is important to ensure they have all the tools to operate successfully, the knowledge, skills, support and authority. Just as with physical assets, there needs to be consistent monitoring of performance and discussion around challenges faced in achieving the required level. Is their interference from the outside that is affecting this, does everyone understand the part they play in each other’s success? The key to these measures is ensuring that people are responsible for their results.

For the maintenance side we can look at various measures. Where are they not performing as expected or desired? What is required to get them there; training, mentorship, knowledge or systems? By making sure that our employees are kept up to date with goals, changes and training, we will likely have a “well-oiled machine” as an organization.

When we take a physical asset out of service, the human perspective is more concerned about the need to ensure they are not losing capacity or capability when someone leaves. This should lead to succession planning and developing career paths for those who might move in to fill the gaps.

To achieve this properly we need the same tools mentioned in the concept phase, skills matrix and competency analysis. Without these we may end up “replacing a person” or “filling a position” without regard to what is needed to lead the organization to succeed.

Another component often mentioned is labour shortage. There are several ways to address this but the simplest and probably most successful is to have those with the talent, work to create procedures that capture what they know. This could be troubleshooting procedures that suggest the logical way of approaching a problem, procedures that detail the nuances of rebuilds or repairs.

It is more efficient to discuss the challenges of the learning curve before the person leaves. Even though it might cost more to have the successor hired or promoted some time ahead of the departure, the return should be in multiples. A sign we don’t always get this right is the proliferation of retirees or people who have just left, being asked back to act as a consultant and do what they used to do before they left.

As mentioned, I won’t address the term “human asset” but hopefully you can see that taking the same approach to ensure that the “value or potential value to the organization” is certainly a good alternative.
Cliff Williams is author of the bestselling maintenance novel People – A Reliability Success Story. He is a maintenance and asset management educator, and a keynote speaker at conferences worldwide, who believes success is achieved through people. Currently, he shares his knowledge and experience as an advisor on maintenance and reliability for people and processes, and asset management with TMS asset management and is a facilitator for PEMAC’s Asset Management Program.


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