I was at an event in London last month where Richard Branson was the star attraction. One thing he said stuck with me: His aim is to have employees who make other workers jealous because they don't work for Virgin.

After Branson spoke, there was an audience Q&A. Every question was about people. How you find the best, attract them to your business, keep them happy. Everything was about personnel. 

It is not just the billionaire Virgin boss who talks endlessly about the value of people. Ask any chief executive about the most important part of their business and the answer will almost always be the same. 

Look at any survey on the future of business or the biggest concerns for executives around Brexit and it will be a similar story. Talent, recruitment, finding the right people -- these are the issues that apparently keep bosses awake at night. 

We accept these statements without question. Why wouldn't we? People are the lifeblood of any company and it is essential to get recruitment right. The dramatic language used and the statistics thrown about make the case even more compelling. A report last year on the retail industry by KPMG was titled The War for Talent. Access to talent is the biggest concern for 83% of tech clusters in the UK, according to Tech Nation

Yet there is a massive disconnect between thoughts and actions. I look at the marginalisation of the people who make hiring decisions and find it hard to believe that CEOs actually put good recruitment at the heart of their business.

If every chief executive genuinely believes the most important thing in the company is people, then by default the most superpowered person will be the HR director or the chief people officer. That never happens, though. The truth is that if you brought the HR director of a big bank through the trading floor, all the traders would think they were higher ranked.

This relative unimportance of talent is supported by the professional backgrounds of the men and women who make it to the top of big companies -- in other words, the people who make the big decisions on people. 

The vast majority of FTSE 100 CEOs have backgrounds in finance, technology or marketing, according to the executive search firm Robert Half. Some 40% are promoted from finance roles, while none have come straight from the HR department. The thought of the HR director being promoted to CEO would probably scare most businesses.

One thing I see all the time is companies arguing for discounted recruitment fees before even seeing the candidate.  It's never about getting the best quality candidate, it's about getting it cheap. If you go down this road as a CEO, then it is impossible to claim at the same time that people are your most important asset. 

It applies even more to small businesses. Big corporates tend to have a long history and culture, but you don't get that at start-ups. Surviving as a start-up is hard enough without hiring second-rate people. 

Recruiting the wrong people can have wide-ranging consequences. If a boss claims to put people at the heart of a company, but then offers no support or obvious career path, it is damaging both for the business and the employer.  

If you start work at a new company and you're told you're the most important thing in this business, you expect that to be the case. When you go to work and you don't feel like that at all, it leads to stress and anxiety. You become ill and that's a cost to society. The company hasn't come through for you.

Is there a solution? It starts with being open about priorities. First and foremost, we need honesty. If people are truly at the heart of your business, then you should back it up with positive action. Do that and you inspire the sort of jealousy Branson was talking about. 

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