It’s time for the corporate sector to rethink business capital

By Hyther Nizam, President – MEA, Zoho Corp.

The vast majority of people associate capital with financial wealth. When economists discuss capital, they refer to the assets that enable improved productivity, which should lead to a higher standard of living. However, when corporate capital is defined purely in terms of monetary wealth, market capitalisation or sales, it invalidates other larger, longer-term goals and they tend to be ignored, are eliminated. While numbers are significant, they are not the most important component of capital for a company’s long-term survival.

The real concept of capital encompasses far more than just a financial metric. Apart from financial wealth, business capital is about developing competencies and deep know-how, establishing roots and nurturing a shared culture, enhancing individual and community livelihoods, and making an impact at the local, regional, and national levels. The method allows businesses to see themselves as more than just profit generators, and to see themselves as part of a much larger picture.

Building skills and capabilities

In order to take this holistic approach, organisations should focus on building capabilities through continuous investment in R&D and skills development. Developing knowledge capital has to take precedence over getting product out to market as quickly as possible. While this might initially mean sacrificing on budgets for marketing and other secondary functions, the benefits become clearer in the long term. Additionally, building knowledge capital shows your clients that you are in it for the long haul, which engenders brand credibility and helps forge stronger connections with customers.

Building this strong knowledge base goes hand-in-hand with talent nurturing. But when looking for talent, most businesses still restrict themselves to a highly selective talent pool based on credentials and educational qualifications. Unfortunately, credentials do not always attest to a person’s true potential and capabilities. Alternatively, when you remove formal education from your hiring requirements, you have access to a huge pool of untapped talent that’s waiting for an opportunity to be trained and developed. Taking in potential talent and upskilling them in-house with industry-ready expertise further contributes to stronger knowledge capital. Such initiatives, additionally, make it easier to evolve and pivot when necessary.

Enriching employees’ lives

It’s also important for businesses to remember that their employees are more than the output they produce during working hours. For employees to be their best version of themselves at work, organisations need to foster a sense of belonging that combines material and spiritual well-being. Good pay, perks, promotions, and in-office recreation centres may look good on paper, but they mean little if they aren’t combined with a sense of freedom, trust, patience, and acceptance. Employees also need to feel free to make mistakes and learn from them without being unduly penalised.

Most businesses, however, approach this idea of building an empowered human capital backward. They start with the goal of maintaining a low attrition rate and then try to analyse why employees leave. Rather, it’s necessary for businesses to ask themselves “what have we done to deserve the loyalty and commitment of our employees?” This reverses the focus from “why do people leave us?” to “why should they stay with us?”, and urges companies to be grateful and appreciative of employees who choose to stick with them over the years.

Developing a shared culture deep-rooted in a core set of principles

A company’s culture is its unique personality, which manifests in the form of strongly-held values, business ethics, and a common sense of purpose. Culture adds meaning to why businesses do what they do and also guides how they do it. Culture gives a clear, collective goal for teams to work towards, spiritedly. This cannot be achieved through maximising profits or developing quick win strategies; they seldom motivate people or encourage them to bond.

Ultimately, getting this right means fostering an awareness that no business is larger than life, and thinking more from the angle of how a business fits into the bigger picture. This helps ensure that the business understands the role it plays in society and how it can be a community asset as it balances impact with growth.

Focusing on long term capital with skills development

Rather than focusing on immediate returns, organisations should recognize the value of building long-term capital that encompasses all the above. Business leaders that understand the business continuity and value that comes with skill development, culture, and know-how building will prioritise laying down these fundamentals of durability. This in turn will enable companies to persevere for longer periods of time, build a positive legacy, and as a result, contribute more to community progress and socio-economic upliftment.