In this Insights article David Walker says that people are not fungible. He opines that we all make a different impact and contribution. People should not be typecast just because of the role label attributed to them. 

What is fungibility?

I was reading an article (1) recently about blockchain and how fungibility is important in enabling it to develop in the future using cryptocurrency. The article also points out that non-fungible tokens have intrinsic value and it is these that will help develop blockchain to become increasingly useful and prevalent.

This got me thinking about how people could be fungible, and how they can help businesses thrive in the post-pandemic period.

As an economist (degree, nearly 40 years ago) and qualified accountant (30+ years ago), I learned that an item that is fungible has no unique features. It can be swapped or exchanged easily without either party increasing or decreasing the value attributed to it. If two people swap their penny coins, they each still have a penny. A penny is fungible. So, in the blockchain example, a cryptocurrency, say bitcoin (or fraction of), is the same as another bitcoin (or equal fraction).

Segue to people and fungibility. In principle, a task can be fungible. If you need a hole digging, then you can hire a person to dig it. If you need 10 holes digging, the same person can take 10 times as long to dig all of the holes. Alternatively, because the task of digging holes is perceived as fungible, you could apply ten people and get all 10 holes dug in the same time as one hole.

Applying the argument to more complex situations, it would follow that one plumber is the same as the next when it comes to a particular task such as replacing a tap. A banker is the same as another banker when it comes to signing a mortgage deed. A politician is the same as another politician…. 

Are people fungible?

This interesting, but fairly academic debate, leads me to the main thrust of this article. If people were truly fungible, in resourcing terms if would be easy for organisations to recover and thrive post-pandemic.

For instance, recruitment of a programmer would be easy, because they are all the same. However, when you are hiring you know that inherently people differ in respect of skills, experience, personalities and so on. Successful hiring is a best guess as to whether candidates have the skills and attributes needed, will ‘fit in’, and will work hard.

To get ahead of the curve though, do these factors really assess whether one programmer is different from another?  Do they help you understand how the programmer will contribute to your business? What happens when you have two candidates with good CVs, the same programming languages, with the type of personalities and work ethic you desire? The two candidates are fungible!? But, they aren’t really, are they? 

Using people’s impact to make decisions

These two candidates can be differentiated in non-discriminatory terms. If you really want to think about how your people will contribute to your organisation thriving, consider the IMPACT that people will make. We all naturally contribute in different ways, so knowing how people will contribute best will help you consider your options.

So, perhaps one of your programmer candidates would naturally drive new ideas and business development, whilst the other would prefer to be directed and simply program software. Knowing that, you can differentiate your two candidates, and your decision would be clarified. Depending upon what you really need to achieve, you could make a better hire.

Similarly, assume you have a new project to help build your organisation. It would be great to know how your people will naturally contribute to that project, wouldn’t it? Knowing how people will exercise their natural impact and inclinations, you can think about the additional (or different) impacts you might need to make the project a success. Alternatively, you might compensate for gaps by building in changes to processes and working practices.

People are complex. We all have worries, egos, and personal situations that we bring to all aspects of our lives. The perception that people are homogenous just because of the role-label given to them makes no sense to me. It is true that, if we only need someone with the label of ‘Project Manager’, then we can find someone who attributes that label to themselves. But will they really make the impact and business contribution that you need?

Using people’s impact to thrive post-pandemic

At The Change Maker Group we help organisations develop Change Makers. Supported by The Change Maker Profile, we can help you determine the impact and business contribution that people and teams will make. We then work with you to consider the real world implications. This is a great experience for the people involved, and a direct impact on your operational performance.

Book an exploratory call to discuss how we might work with you.

Contact David at [email protected]


(1) Digital identity, cats and why fungibility is key to blockchain’s future – PA Consulting