Q: When Is A Human Not A Human?

A: When it’s a resource.

This would be my early bid to take the crown for crap joke of the year, except in the current world of work, it is no joke. An overwhelming number of businesses choose to refer to people not as people, but as resources. Human Resources. According to the great God Google, resources is defined thusly.

Resources: Noun. A stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organisation in order to function effectively.

My curiosity about humans described as resources has been reawakened by a blog post on Forbes.com titled: Airbnb Chief Human Resource Officer Becomes Chief Employee Experience Officer (Warning! Like every article on Forbers.com this one is riddled with irritating adverts, making it exceptionally hard and unpleasant to read. Proceed with caution). I confess my initial reaction to the headline was not altogether positive, then I checked myself. Just because it’s easy to say/refer to Personnel as HR, doesn’t make it the right thing to say. The language we choose to position and describe things is important, and though we need words and actions working together, what we say about something, powerfully shapes the subsequent conversation.

I offered the headline and article up to Twitter and was generously responded to.

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Gemma’s suggestion that the idea of framing the conversation about colleagues as resources is hideous, feels easy to agree with. Personnel, people, colleagues, employees, these are all surely preferable to the current, and most common option? I know resources is only a word, and if it’s our starting point then it sends the conversation off in an unhelpful direction.

To Paul’s point – if this move from HR to Employee Experience does represent a shift towards a more supportive environment, rather than the often held belief that Personnel (sorry I’m not using Human Resources any more) are the watchful eye of the employer, there to manage risk/make sure you don’t step out of line, then that too is a shift in a positive direction. I like Paul’s new question – where does the risk function end up? I’m not sure and I’m no expert, and when I’ve worked with and in Personnel departments a lot of risk management is discussed with and referred to lawyers, so maybe cut out the middle person and go straight to legal?

Ade sees this change of language as a good example of Personnel realigning with the business. Hard to argue with that, given so many of us believe and experience that high levels of understanding/integration between departments and functions is a good thing.

I like what all three correspondents have to say, they’ve helped stretch my thinking, and hopefully yours too. When you want to connect to these folks, click the pics above and you can link to their blog sites/twitter.

What do you think? Does it matter that we so frequently label people as resources? Should there be a shift to something less resource, more human? And if so, what? If the term Personnel, the P in CIPD, is good enough for the UK professional body, is it good enough for you too?

Not withstanding my slight disappointment that after hailing the move from HR to Employee Experience, the writer of the Forbes.com article reverts to the current norm in these follow up questions, I offer them to you by way of more food for thought.

  1. Are we still functioning in a Human Resources silo? How can we broaden our vision and begin to partner with other functional groups such as Marketing, Facilities, Real Estate, Communications, and Sustainability to create as memorable an employee experience as we create a customer experience?
  2. How can we use the tools we use for our customer experience such as: ongoing research into needs and perceptions, design thinking, and a marketing mindset to re-invent the Human Resource function?
  3. How do we create and embrace an iterative development model so new Human Resource services are co-created with employees in much the same way new products are co-created by our company’s most passionate consumers?

Second Time Around

In May this year I attended the first Engagement Taskforce (guru group) meeting. Arrggghhh I have to put those words in brackets I hate ’em mustn’t let them escape! I tweeted about this event at the time and invited questions, comments, any kind of input before the day. There was barely a whisper, which gave me some indication of how people felt about the whole thing.

After the event I reported back here and here and a very active conversation rapidly emerged. David Zinger was kind enough to say that in his opinion the resulting dialogue was one of the most vigorous online conversations on engagement in recent years, and indicates that perhaps there is interest in this initiative after all.

We’ve been asked to come together again for another session on September 23rd. I want you good people to know this because I remain keen to hear from you with comments, criticism, input, ideas etc which you think might inform the engagement taskforce project. You can read more about the project here and I hope to hear from you soon.

Thanks in advance for your contribution.