Optimizing Your Human Capital, Part 3: Assets That Matter

Dean A. Junkans, CFA

Editor’s note: This is the third article in a three-part series by SigFig Advisor Dean A. Junkans, CFA, discussing how investing in your human capital is just as important as your portfolio mix. With 30 years of investing experience, Dean served as Chief Investment Officer of Wells Fargo Private Bank and is a published author.

In the first two installments of our three-part series on Optimizing Your Human Capital, we defined human capital and how to optimize it. We then discussed some of the human capital assets that define you, as well as assets that you can control, and the important role they play in optimizing your own human capital. In the third article in the series, we will discuss some of the assets that matter on your journey to optimizing your human capital. Those are:

1.   Reputation
2.   Communication
3.   Leadership

You can be the positive force in your work team who looks at problems as opportunities, who helps the new team member learn their job, and who volunteers for the tough assignments. This is leadership and it can be a critical factor in spring-boarding your career and the value of your human capital. - Dean A. Junkans, CFA, SigFig Advisor

Assets that matter

1. Reputation

Reputation matters more than almost any other characteristic you will bring to the workplace, yet it is something that many people never stop to think about, especially early in their careers. There is often a belief that your incredible skill or ability in some area will conquer all, but if your reputation is tainted in some way, your skill will not matter.

You establish your reputation early in your new place of employment. How you “show up” the first few weeks on a new job will largely define your reputation at that company. So start well! In today’s work environment, reputations seems to be developed rather quickly — and lost even more quickly. If you are leaving a job, or leaving a company, how you leave and what you say as you are leaving will be another moment of great impact on your reputation. So end well!

If you are not sure what your reputation is in the company where you work, find out! Most companies have many ways to figure that out. One of them is the 360 degree feedback process, where you receive specific feedback from people at all levels in your work team. Alternatively, you may simply ask trusted colleagues that you know will give you the straight answer.

A good question to ask is, “What do you see as my personal brand?” It is open-ended enough that you will get a wide range of feedback, and in the process you will get a good sense of your reputation in the company. If you find out that your reputation is strong, great; that is an excellent confirmation that you are on the right track. If you find that your reputation is weak, try not to be defensive, but take positive action to change it and to improve the value of your human capital!

2. Communication

One of the most important and impactful ways to differentiate yourself in the workplace, and thereby enhance your human capital, is to be an effective communicator. What is an effective communicator? Let’s first define what it is not. It is not simply being able to stand in front of a group and deliver the speech of the century. This is one element of being an effective communicator, but it is by no means the only thing that matters in effective communication.

By all means, if you are shy about getting in front of a group and giving a speech, or if you do not believe you are good at it, please take advantage of every opportunity to practice and learn. Whether that means joining Toastmasters or taking a presentations skills class, or simply agreeing to deliver a speech — the more confidence you have that you can do this, the more valuable you will be as a communicator.

Effective communication is often knowing how your audience, your team, your boss, your friends, want to communicate. Some people are great at face-to-face meetings, but rarely return emails. Some people are great at emails, but would prefer not to meet face to face, unless absolutely necessary. For some, voicemail is a communication tool of the past, and leaving a voicemail is like not communicating with them at all. Learn the preferences of key people you will be communicating with and try to adapt to their preference.

Work on developing a good style in the following methods of communication:

1.   Face to Face, either one-on-one or small group,
2.   Conference call, either one-on-one or small group,
3.   Email,
4.   Voicemail,
5.   PowerPoint or spreadsheet driven presentations, and
6.   Large group presentations.

This sounds like a lot – doesn’t even cover all types of interaction – but it is not as daunting as it seems. For example, if you stand up while on a conference call, your voice will have more energy any your message will come across as more compelling, than if you are sitting down. Just making that one change can make you a more effective communicator. In all of these situations, there is no substitute for preparation, knowing the two or three key points you want to get across, and following the ‘less is more’ approach.

3. Leadership

If you are reading this and thinking to yourself “I am not in a manager role, so this does not apply to me,” you are missing the point. Plenty of non-managers are leaders, and some managers are not leaders. In my entire 30-year work career, I never applied for a manager role, yet I was regularly moved into these positions with greater levels of responsibility. The reason is simple; I always tried to lead in whatever job I had at the time. You can, too!

If you are a cube dweller in a cube city work environment, you can be a leader and look for ways to do things better, and you can be the positive force in your work team who looks at problems as opportunities, who helps the new team member learn their job, and who volunteers for the tough assignments. This is leadership, and it can be a critical factor in spring-boarding your career and increasing the value of your human capital.

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