The “R” part of HR

Frequently, HR topics find their way into Agile Communities and almost always become heated discussions. Recently,  and again, one of such topics was raised in the global community of Coaches and Trainers.

Truth be told, HR norms and policies are a direct reflection of organizational culture (also, corollary to structure) and very much define human relationships within an organization. This is why, very often, the “R” part of HR is referred to as “Relationship”. A few weeks ago, at 2017 Business Agility, held in NYC, there was a strong reminder about this, by Fabiola Eyholzer.

There is a widely shared belief that the historical meaning of “R”, as it was originally defined: “Resource” – is no longer appropriate. Or has it ever been?

To refer to humans as Resources implies that people are inanimate objects, machines, goods or services that are simply acted upon by more intelligent resource managers. But resources do not think, do not take initiatives, do not mature and do not self-advance. And humans – do. So, how can humans be just resources?  “Resource” – was probably an accurate description of a working human in the early part of the last century, during the Industrial Revolution, in the era of Taylorian Management (F. Taylor summed up his management efficiency techniques in his 1911 book “The Principles of Scientific Management”). Back then, when most value of humans’ work was in their mundane, unskilled physical factory labor, there was a strong belief that decision making (done by higher-paid skilled management) and decision implementation (done by low-paid, unskilled laborers) – must be clearly separated.

However, in the 21st Century of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, nuclear biology and galactic explorations, should humans still be considered as resources, or are they rather humans?

In agile organizations, where self-organization and self-management is one of the fundamental pillars of success, referring to humans as ‘resources’, becomes even more misleading. It would be very inappropriate to consider a highly skilled, cross-functional scrum team member, who is expected to experiment, improvise, inspect and adapt – as a resource. It would be no less misleading, to call a scrum team or a few teams, working together on the same complex product, as “pool of resources”. A manager who says: “I got 15 resources on this project” – is a Taylorian Manager.

And back to the acronym of “HR”: by re-labeling “R” into Relationships makes the meaning of HR, as an abbreviation, so much stronger.
Indeed, how much more pleasant and comforting (psychologically, of course) would it be for an average worker to know that there is an organizational area (department)
that strongly fosters importance of human relationships inside an organisation?

Language and wording is powerful: it shapes behaviors.

For more references and publications about HR-related topics, please visit this page.

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