I began my professional life employed as a compensation analyst in what was then known as the Personnel Department. I remember when we made this (attempted) cultural shift to rebrand ourselves as the Department of Human Resources. Throughout my professional life, I have spent time employed in the department referred to as Human Resources. I have continued to be connected to the field through my consulting practice and academic teaching. Human. Resources. The change to the term was intended to change the perception of the field along with the way in which organizations approached the people that comprised the organization. The idea emerged of people being the organization’s most valuable asset. I think when some organizations use the phrase ‘employees are our most valuable asset’ what they really mean is that people are our most liquid asset.’ In my mind referring to people as assets harkens back to a time when human beings were slaves and indentured servants. I think we need to approach people as human beings, with free will, aspirations, talents and gifts and approach organizational life as how true engagement and partnerships can be created that honor the autonomy and dignity of each individual. I think of an organization as a community with a specific mission and purpose.
While the intention might be to bring value to the people side of the organization, the term resource has underlying conations of something to be used, consumed, and then disposed of. Would you refer to your own child as a resource?
In fact, I can think of many instances that organizations that supposedly valued their organizational members, turned around and dispatched with those who in the leadership’s mind, had outlived their usefulness.
The issue goes much deeper than what we call a single department within an organization. I think there is an opportunity to change our mental model around the role of human beings within organizational life. The language we use matters. The terms we use shape our beliefs and are a deeper reflection of our core values. Some organizations are recognizing this and some have adopted the term People in place of HR. This is a step in the right direction; the real challenge is to change the underlying culture which is much more of an adaptive challenge than changing the words on an organizational chart and office doors.
If you find yourself pondering similar questions around your own unique adaptive challenges, connect with me here or find me on LinkedIn. I would love to explore how you and or your organization can experience life to the fullest and engage in positive, transformative change.