When a factory is providing its maximum return on capital it is
easy to see. A third shift needs to be added, the loading dock is
constantly nearing capacity with product before the trucks come to
take it away, and inputs are arriving just in time to be put
into production.

Return on human capital, though, requires a different
perspective and analysis because of how malleable that capital is.
A hydroforming aluminum press that is set up to manufacture parts
of a monocoque automotive chassis cannot put out a different
product without significant retooling that could take days. Humans
are quite different. A senior in-house legal counsel can just open
a different document and suddenly be doing the work of a
paralegal–yet at several times the hourly cost. If this scenario
were occurring regularly across sales, marketing, development, and
operations roles, everyone at the managerial level would appear to
be busy, working at capacity, yet the company would be operating
well below the potential return on capital.

“During the recession, asking people to absorb other roles and
make do with lower staffing levels helped to trim budgets and
survive in lean times,” says Rob Romaine, president of
MRINetwork. “Nearly three years after the end of
the recession, though, employers are hiring throughout their
organizations, and there are nearly 3.7 million current job

The highest job opening rate is in the professional and business
sector where there is one job opening for every 27 workers
currently employed, in contrast to one opening for every 33
healthcare workers or one for every 50 construction workers.
Considering that the unemployment rate for management, professional
and related occupation professionals is 3.8 percent, or one in 26,
the sector is essentially near full employment.

“Maximizing your return on investment when it comes to
professional talent today isn’t a matter of how lean you can run
the organization, but rather how effectively you
are utilizing your top talent,” notes Romaine. “This has
been one of the largest shifts in talent demand this year. Managers
aren’t just looking at the capabilities they can add to
their organization, but how to add talent that will let their
talent reach their highest potential,” says Romaine.

While in a simple way this might mean freeing top producers of
the responsibilities that distract from them doing what they do
best, Romaine says it can also involve a more nuanced approach.

“A lone wolf could do amazing things, yet appear to be peaking
in their performance. By bringing in someone on a similar level but
with a different background, a manager can help to spark the
rigorous debate and examination that allows a once plateaued
performer to continue to grow and do their best work,” says

When talking about an organization’s top performers, though, the
conversation inevitably has to return to not just how to develop
them, but how to retain them. A recent survey by the American
Management Association showed that more than a third of employers
are expecting turnover to increase in the coming year, while less
than 20 percent of those employers feel they are well prepared for
that turnover.

“Top talent is driven by success, their ability to have a
positive impact on their organization, and the potential to
continue to grow,” says Romaine. “Building out teams that help top
talent to grow is vital to increasing job satisfaction at a time
when finding experienced replacements is becoming increasingly
difficult. But helping your best people to work better also
directly improves your return on human capital.”

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