If You’re Not an Asset, You’re a Liability

A liability can mean something that is a hindrance or puts an individual or group at a disadvantage.

Businesses, over time, incur liabilities. The most obvious being financial liability such as debt and payables. It should be the goal of every company to minimize liabilities and to only incur ones that lead to strategic growth. This is true for human liabilities as well. Businesses should be vigilant in making sure people are challenged and developed to become appreciating assets and not depreciating into liabilities.

What is a human liability? To put it simply, a human liability is someone who uses up more resources than he or she contributes. One simple way to check this is to figure out the value of an individual’s contributions and compare this to what he or she is paid. You can also look at the benefits, value of office space used, and the equipment used, and see if an employee uses more than he or she contributes.

Don’t be simplistic about this though. Not everyone’s contribution can be directly correlated to finances. The principle is to know the value each part of your team brings, to actively bring out the best in them, and to be aware of liabilities and deal with them prudently.

You don’t do anyone favors when you tolerate liabilities.

One thing I’ve learned through my years in business is that you don’t do anyone favors by not addressing the awkward, painful, and sometimes scary work of dealing with liabilities. When we tolerate perennial liabilities, we promote waste. We don’t help our companies because we drain resources that could be put elsewhere. We don’t help our people because they now have to cover for the liability. And we don’t even help the person who is a liability because we keep him in an artificial comfort zone that does not require him to grow.

The goal of business — heck, the goal of life — is not to reach a sweet spot of comfort but to generate as much value as we can from the time, money, and energy that we have.

Employees, partners, suppliers, managers, even bosses are supposed to contribute and these contributions should be measured. This is not a bad thing. It’s a smart thing. In my experience, it’s usually the under-performers who don’t like being measured. People who are serious about hitting targets and breaking them are always measuring themselves. We see the same thing in the gym. The people who really track their progress and customize their habits to hit their targets as they go along usually achieve their goals. Those who don’t like tracking their progress objectively will never know how close or how far they really are.

Am I a liability?

The best way to weed out liabilities is to check ourselves for habits and practices that make us liabilities ourselves. Coming-in late, not focusing, being lazy, being scatter-brained are a few examples I can think of.

To help you assess yourself, I’d like to share a few questions New Leaf Ventures partner and CBTL Holdings President, Walden Chu, asked us in our 2014 kick-off meeting earlier this year:

1. Am I exceeding the expectations of the company, clients, and partners?
2. Am I purposefully contributing to the success of others?
3. Do I energize others so they want to act? 
4. Am I reactor or creator when I lead?

These are good questions to reflect on. If you find in your honest self-assessment that you have liability-causing traits, my advice is to take upon yourself to deal with them and grow. Like I said, hanging out with liabilities, even worse, being a liability, doesn’t do anyone good.


David Bonifacio is the Managing Director of New Leaf Ventures.
Connect with David on LinkedIn


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David Bonifacio is the Direcor of Strategy for the CBTL Holdings Group, Managing Director of New Leaf Ventures, Managing Director of Elevation Partners, Managing Director of IDC Manpower Services, President of Issho Genki International, and advises businesses in South East Asia on matters of strategy, technology, and people development. David serves actively on the boards and committees of non-profit organizations including: Habitat for Humanity Philippines (housing) and CCT (microfinance). David pursues his creative interests through his blog dbonifacio.com

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