Monday, 20 April 2015

I Am Not A Resource...I Am A Person

The most frequently repeated quote from the 1960's cult TV series, The Prisoner, is probably "I am not a number, I am a free man". Much has changed since then, and global corporations now rule the world. I'm repeatedly find myself getting drawn in to discussions resonating around a similar theme in this brave new world where managers insist on calling me a resource. I am not a resource, I am a person!

Some folk say I get too worked up about this - they make counter claims that terminology doesn't matter, or that the groups that look after people are Human Resource departments (didn't they used to be Personnel Departments?). But, to me, words are important, and just because some groups have redefined certain words to suit their own agendas doesn't mean that they are right and it certainly doesn't mean that we don't have the right to complain. But let's get back to the point.

According to Wikipedia, the first use of the term Human Resources, in a modern connotation was in 1958 by E Wright Bakke - an American economist (which I guess says it all!). In my view a resource is passive, an inanimate or insentient object, like a computer, or a milling machine or a desk. It may require due care and attention to keep it functioning effectively, but it doesn't have needs that it can articulate or negotiate. A resource, in this sense of the word, can be moved around, redistributed, taken apart and rebuilt for a different purpose.

This dispassionate use of the word resource to describe people only continues to fuel the apparently insatiable appetite of institutional shareholders and market/financial analysts to demand head count reductions as their key measure of how to cut operational costs. It's a lot easier to tell the CEO that they need to cut out 1400 resources to improve productivity than it is to sack 1400 people and screw up their lives. Resources feature on balance sheets, people don't. I was recently incensed by an article about Yahoo where a Wall St. analyst was demanding that Marissa Meyer needed to fire a further 1400 staff in order to match Facebook's or Google's productivity rates. Because that's the only strategy he could understand. He couldn't appreciate that in a organisation already suffering from morale issues, further job losses would almost certainly lower productivity even further. And he certainly couldn't seem to understand that productivity can be improved by different means, far more effectively and successfully. And in a sustainable way.

Next time you look in the mirror, will you see a resource staring back at you or will you see a reflection of yourself; a real, flesh and blood person with needs, emotions and feelings?

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