Let’s change how we talk about cost

it_photo_122035.jpgMy profession constantly exposes me to HR professionals with diverse perspectives. While some may consider it fun, if you’ve been around HR folks long enough, you know it can be exhausting. You may also notice that a by-product of the profession is that almost everyone in HR thinks that they know their job well. It may be true or it may just be the Dunning–Kruger effect (I have a whole post on this coming up).

This particular post is the result of a long intellectual debate on ‘cost’ that I happened to stumble across. The lead of the conversation was explaining how his organization had taken the decision to cut costs. This particular gentleman made great contributions by identifying and eliminating ‘luxury costs’ associated with HR. Some examples include cutting down on off-sites and holding them in conference rooms, trimming frills in conferences (no flowers, bottled water etc. I am not sure how this was an ‘HR’ decision but I let it pass) and (this is the best bit) on-boarding cheaper HR Tech vendors. After all, what is the difference between the more expensive vs less expensive HR systems? Neither seem to be delivering results.

Of course, the last bit that caught attention and led to a heated debate on investments in HR Tech, potential long term ROI and all associated prudent discussions. This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed discussions around ‘cost’. It definitely won’t be the last. Mostly, the discussions improve because some wise soul rightly points out the importance of bringing benefit into the picture, hence completing the cost-benefit duo. However, these discussions do little to make me happy.

What would make me happy? Turning it around and re-phrasing it to – ‘How can we do more with less?’ or ‘How can we deliver greater value?’ You’d probably say – same thing, different words. I agree. Yet, connotation matters. Words are powerful and cost pushes the focus down the wrong road. I’ve seen organizations and teams cut visible cost at the ‘cost’ of long term success.

Cost makes us myopic and I can’t think of anything that is further away from where our focus should be. Can we agree to change the way we look at ‘cost’ and talk about it differently? Personally, it has made its way very quickly to my top 10 most disliked words. You will not hear me mention it again. I promise.

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