Are You Revenue or an Expense?

I should probably start this with a disclaimer of sorts: “Not recommended for anyone who can be offended by harsh reality.”

Read on at your own risk.

A few months back I was conducting a training event in the US when one of the most exceptional people I have ever known made a simple yet provocative statement: “Employees in any company can be classified along two lines only — some are revenue generators, and some are simply expense items. Wow.

Given the source, I had to look beyond my initial shock and reflect. I started to think about the multiple times I have had to restructure companies and induce layoffs. How I would inherently “protect” sales positions as they are the roles that “bring in the cases” and would skew more towards staff positions for reduction. In an unconscious sort of way, I did indeed separate employees into segments of “revenue” or “expense.”

I reflected on the best employees of my career, those whom you would want to hire no matter where you are; who left an indelible impression. Like my secretary in Poland, who always seemed to come up with ideas to save money in little yet important ways. Who printed on both sides of the paper to save even a few centavos when she could. In my mind, I had classified her as “revenue” because she helped the bottom line.

I even thought about families. In any family, you can have grown children who are self-sufficient and “off the payroll,” and others who seemingly can’t manage money, can’t live within their means, or who lack initiative, and are constantly borrowing from mom and dad. In a sense, isn’t the self-sufficient kid a “revenue” and the kid living off mom and dad well into their adult years an “expense”?

At the end of all this reflection, I came to a conclusion. It’s tough. It’s harsh. It’s painful to some. But my dear friend is so very right. We are either revenue, or we are expense.

The good news is, being a revenue or an expense is not pre-determined. It’s not a matter of what role you are in. Some sales people are expense items. And some HQ staff are revenue. What can make anyone a revenue item?

Spend company money as you spend your own. The best employees respect company assets and money. They don’t splurge during travel as an excuse to “live it up.” They negotiate for the best deals, they creatively think of new ways of saving money. They spend wisely. Just like they would with their own money. And believe me, people notice.

• Give your ideas. I have had dozens of examples of dedicated employees stepping outside their realm of expertise and offering up new and fresh ideas from personal experience that ended up building the business.  They’re invaluable.

• Be a team player. Support your company. Support the people around you. Be positive. Nothing’s worse than a gossiper, a complainer who undermines the morale of the entire team. Now, that truly is an expense!

We live in a world of downsizing, restructuring, and unsteady job security. Not a week passes in which we don’t see the closure of a site, or a downsizing of some sort. A headline screaming about lost jobs. In this global world, companies can either stay competitive or fade away.  We can worry about it, or do something about it. Take a step back. Ask yourself a hard question: “Am I a revenue item, or an expense item?” Those who are revenue need not worry about job security. They have it.

Being revenue is a choice, not a mandate.

The choice is yours.