On Purpose Enterprises Blog

They Are Your People – NOT ‘Human Resources’

About 50-60 years ago, after WWII, the term ‘Human Resources’ came into popular useSince that time, the term has become widespread and acceptable, part of our workplace lexicon.  Universities offer degree programs, and entire organizations are dedicated to professional certification and skill enhancement in this field.  It’s now an acronym, just 2 letters: HR.‘  

After half a century, the world has changed and it’s time for something new.  My goal in this blog is to radically change your thinking; to introduce you to an all-new approach to talent management and brand development – rather than the conventional Human Resources approach. 

The term ‘human resources’ was used to describe and classify a certain thing; an asset of corporations; like buildings, equipment and financial resources.  It could be quantified and moved around by the accountants, shown in the numbers on financial statements and described glowingly in annual reports to the stockholders.

In the 50’s and 60’s, two major influences drove American business: the Cold War and Harvard MBA-style thinking.  

Harvard MBA’s were taught to manage corporations by focusing primarily on the bottom line, producing profits with efficient operations and processes.    Human Resources was a process, a line item, a department with ‘personnel’ that managed ‘head count.’  You acquire some, you use it for its intended purpose and you divest yourself of it when it is no longer useful or capable of producing profit.

The Cold War spawned the creation of many horrible weapons, including the neutron bomb.   A neutron bomb is a type of nuclear weapon specifically designed not to produce a massive explosion and significant infrastructure damage, but rather to completely irradiate an area with neutron radiation, killing all living things while leaving the infrastructure relatively intact. Though a neutron bomb does cause infrastructure damage and some long term radiation (it is still a nuclear weapon after all), they are specifically designed so that ~48 hours after the device is detonated, friendly troops can move into an area and utilize the infrastructure without fear of radiation.  Thus, neutron bombs are generally seen more as a tactical nuclear weapon than a strategic one.

Maybe it’s just me…but I think that the combination of Harvard MBA-style thinking and ‘old school’ Human Resources has created some situations in corporate America that bear a few unfortunate similarities to the effects of a neutron bomb. 

  • For the last 30+ years or so, many organizations have implemented policies (via Human Resources) that have killed all living things while leaving the infrastructure relatively intact.   
  • Mergers and acquisitions, lay-offs, down-sizing, consolidation, off-shoring, job-sharing, risk management, benefits administration and ‘strategic HR initiatives’ have all been implemented to help organizations manage corporations by focusing primarily on the bottom line, producing profits with efficient operations and processes.  The survivors, when there are any, are often in very poor shape.
  • Wall Street executes mergers and acquisitions followed by ‘strategic HR initiatives,’ so that ~48 hours after the device is detonated, friendly troops can move into an area and utilize the infrastructure.  Out with the old employees, in with the new.  The customers are going to love them.  We think.  At least we can show a profit.  This quarter.
  • The real net impact of this thinking has generally been seen by employees more as a tactical nuclear weapon than a strategic one.  It worked in the short-term, but in the long term, things are not better.  Some skirmishes may have been won, but the war is going rather poorly.

The results of this worldview and behavior can be illustrated in one word: DETROIT. 

Employee tenure, loyalty and engagement is now at an all-time low (or practically non-existent).  Some organizations experience 50-75% annual turnover.  Terms like ‘shrinkage’ are used instead of what it describes: employees who are so dis-engaged from their job and employer that they steal from them.  From CEO to the front-line, employees move from company to company for a better paycheck and benefits.

Here is a statistic that I find truly baffling.  The unemployment rate is around 7.5% – YET – almost every organization is having a hard time finding qualified candidates for open positions.  If that many people need work, why aren’t they working for the employers who want them?  Maybe a different way of thinking, an entirely different approach would produce far better results!

The sad truth is that a lot of organizations, from small to large, have forgotten what HR actually stands for.  A significant % employees think it means something different than HR professionals and executives at most organizations think it means, or would like it to mean. 

This thing – which is far more difficult to define or classify than buildings, equipment and financial resources creates every brand impression and delivers all of the products and services of the organization to the marketplace.   This thing – at every touchpoint and interaction – with customers, clients, constituents, vendors, other employees, potential employees, stakeholders, investors, partners, the community and the marketplace in which the organization resides creates the brand that the public really understands and remembers.

This thing that I’ve been describing is YOUR PEOPLE.   They are not an asset like buildings, equipment and financial resources.  They are human beings, not human resources

Every employee, each individual person at your organization, comes to the workplace (whether physically or virtually); performs tasks; creates value; generates every idea; manufactures every widget; engineers every assembly and structure; maintains every system; oversees the management of every dollar (costs and revenues); sells every product and service; attends every meeting; and serves and supports every customer. 

I close with 4 recommendations/challenges for every executive, manager or owner:

  1. Your people are THE key differentiator in a marketplace full of identical competitors.
  2. A new approach is required for change to occur.  Conventional thinking will produce ‘normal’ results.  
  3. Talent management is the missing ingredient in brand development. 
  4. The organization with the best talent (people) will tend to dominate its marketspace.

If you’re ready to implement a radical change in thinking at your organization, check out our resources and contact OnPurpose Enterprises today.