Your People Are Your Capital

blog-shutterstock_1285127959.jpgA fascinating discovery reported in the Harvard Business Review arose from an experiment where the authors asked pairs of strangers to tap out a beat. They either tapped in-synch with each other, or out-of-synch with each other. Later, one of the pair was faced with an unfair load of work, and the other knew about it.

Their responses teach us a great deal about modern management. But before we look at the way people tapping together behave, consider the cost of silence. A study found that as few as one in twenty-five people will speak up when confronted with an injustice, even a trivial one. Instead, “the average person wasted 7 days complaining, doing unnecessary work, ruminating about the problem, or getting angry — instead of speaking up. A shocking 40% of our respondents admitted to wasting two weeks or more.” Their subjects estimated that “silence cost their companies from USD$7,500 to $50,000 per incident.”


At the other end of the spectrum, half of the subjects who tapped in-synch with their partner offered to help them with the unfair load of work. Less than one in five of the out-of-synch partners offered the same. “The in-synch tappers reported not only feeling more similar to the strangers with whom they’d been paired, but also more compassion for them, and those two measures increased in tandem,” they discovered.

The benefits of getting your team into rhythm are clear. Most people will want to work together when they’re in sync. The art of modern management engages this positive quality of human nature and directs it skillfully, perhaps even playfully, since the people being directed are as aware of the arrangement as you. The authors concluded, “Teams, not individuals, are the future of work.”

They also observed that, “For people to work together, they need to know that both labor and credit will be shared.” That’s the essence of a team, and for one to operate well, it needs to support the company’s purpose and its strategic plan. Those give context to their collaboration and define success, so when credit is given, it’s clearly deserved. This is exactly the sort of environment that today’s employees, especially Millennials, respond to best.


Enabling a collaborative enterprise dedicated to achieving a strategic plan creates capital, or, at least, significantly increases the likelihood of capital creation. A study of nearly thirty thousand companies from 1960 to 2009 found that nine in ten firms that listed before 1970 survived five years, while during the first decade of this century only six in ten did. Over that same timeframe, “organizational capital as a portion of total capital doubled. The portion of total capital dedicated to physical assets dropped by half.”

As organizational capital became more critical, firms failed at a much greater rate.

In this context, getting in the rhythm takes on a whole new importance. Business leaders who pursue it are more likely to stand the test of time, and to create capital from within.