“From the Vault” — From time to time I will share past Friday Food For Thought blogs, with some updating to the content. For some of you, you may be reading this a second time, and for other, it is brand new. I think even reading a revised version can offer new insights and perspectives.
Would you refer to your own child as a resource?
Many years ago, 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 engaged with the department typically 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 to 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. Think of it this way. 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. Rather than view senior employees as a burden, they can be appreciated for their insights and wisdom. Native Americans even have a phrase for this, “the wisdom of the elders”.
This challenge is not limited to the HR department. 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. We professionals in the HRD field are in a unique position to help shape this desired culture. We can do this in the training we develop and deliver, through career development, and organization development, we can help put the word “Human” at the forefront of what organizational life is all about. For a deeper look at these ideas, check out one of my previous podcasts: Lessons in leadership and Human Empathy from COVID-19. As the Chief People Officer for Thrive Restaurant Group, my guest, Ryan Bond, talks about putting the Human back into Human Resources and how we can create healthy organizations that truly meet people’s needs. Ryan talks about how we need to shift from the organizational model of “Create wealth to fulfill wants” and pivot to a model based upon “health and needs”. There is a reason we are called human beings rather than human doers.
Stay safe and have a peace-filled weekend.