People are Human Beings, NOT Human Resources. Bye bye HR as we know it

My hypothesis is that people are not resources. They have resources such as time, skills, knowledge etc… and that is what companies acquire but that does not make the human being a resource to be exploited. Resources are things that we use and the idea that we use people is part of why current organisations are dysfunctional. We essentially prostitiute ourselves to companies in a transactional model. It is sex without the love.

It is no wonder that levels of motivation, productivity and collaboration are so low. When you buy peoples time, that is actually what you get … their time. If you want motivation, collaboration and productivity, you need to treat them as Human Beings.

What we can learn from sports teams

In 2016, a few previously unsuccessful sports teams achieved huge success with very limited resources. Iceland did really well in their first European football championship competition, including knocking out England who had vastly superior “resources” and talent. Connaught, the unheard of province in Ireland where I am from, won a European Rugby Club competition against all expectations. Leicester did the same when they won the premier league in England. Looking on from a distance, what I saw in all cases was that they played as teams rather than collections of individuals. They were greater than the sum of the parts. Money was not the primary motivator as they were very badly paid compared to their more illustrious colleagues in other teams. Neither were they motivated by fear, as none of them were afraid of failing as expectations were so low. They were motivated by the strong collective bond between them to prove the doubters wrong and succeed or fail together. There was very little room for Ego.

These stories reveal some of the secrets to effective collaboration. Team first and then the individual. Don’t treat people as resources and hope to motivate them through fear and greed. The ability to achieve success is dependent on our ability to work together collectively based on a motivation which comes from within and is shared.

The difference between the person and the resource

One of the greatest mistakes I think we have made within organisations is that we built a great big Chinese wall inside of each employee. The company is willing to pay for time, skills and competences but does not want all of the “personal baggage” that comes with it. Leave your personal problems outside the door and put on your professional mask between 9-5pm when you are paid to be what the company would like you to be. As a direct result, companies started to manage the resources which people sold to them and this evolved into managing the person as a resource.

Over the last 10 years, post financial crisis in particular, companies have faced a dilemma. They had to cut costs and inevitably this resulted in reducing the number of people. At the same time, expectations from customers and increasing competition means that they need to get more out of less “resources”. Collaboration can be an effective way of achieving this as we’ve seen with the sports stories above. Unfortunately, companies really struggle to develop intrinsic motivation in employees so that they “stretch” beyond what they would ordinarily achieve. In part, it is because they simply don’t know the person they have hired. They know the “resources” part of them as the skills, the competences and the experience were all assessed when they hired them.

When you look at a CV, it tells the story. 90% of it is what we did, where we worked, what trainings and education we have and then a little bit, right at the end called “Hobbies and personal interests” is about who we are and what drives us as people. In addition, we tend to know very little about our colleagues as a result of this split between “personal and professional”. Work/Life balance has resulted in taking the “life” out of “work” and that directly effects productivity, motivation and collaboration.

My Crystal ball

While discussing this with a couple of friends the other evening (thanks Jason and Brice for listening to my monologue), they asked “do you really believe that everyone will only do what makes them happy in the future. Isn’t that unrealistic”. I had to concede that I agreed with them. However, I do believe that something fundamental is changing in terms of the relationship between people and the companies they work for.

  1. Companies need to have a relationship with the entire person, not just the persons “resources” in order to understand what motivates them
  2. Smart companies will adapt to the people rather than expecting the people to adapt to the company because they are paid to. The relationship needs to move beyond a “transaction” model.
  3. Employees need to be “whole” and remove this professional mask. Skills, knowledge, competence and experience is not the professional “you”. The drivers, motivations, passions, dreams, weaknesses are also part of you and suppressing them results in burn-out, bore-out or brown-out
  4. More and more people will be freelance in the future as a mechanism to avoid having to change who they are to adapt to a company culture. If companies want to hire them, they need to hire they “whole” person and not just the parts they wish to exploit.

I spend time doing things which I don’t particularly enjoy such as administration. What has changed since I decided to focus on doing things which I am intrinsically motivated by, is that I spend about 80% of my time doing what I enjoy and have minimised the rest. Some people will always be motivated by external factors such as money but increasingly, for companies wishing to or needing to stretch, they will need to adapt to the Human Beings if they wish to improve productivity, collaboration and most importantly WELL-BEING.

David (your trusted HB advisor)


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