What we call something guides our way of managing it, as well as how we view it and approach it. Many may call it semantics, but there is a reason for making these subtle changes. At one point in the not-to-distant past, Human Resources was affectionately known as Personnel. Why was it changed to HR? Because there was a desire to change the focus from an asset to a more human approach. The change was initially laughed at by cynics and scoffers, then embraced and lauded for the courage to take such a bold step.
Making the word human a part of the focus, changed how HR was managed. Over time, how HR is viewed has changed significantly from the dark Personnel days. I don’t know about you, but when I think of Personnel, I imagine some grumpy old person smoking in a room with wood paneling on the walls. The lighting sucks and they have stacks of folders – aka “your permanent record” – sitting on their desks. They were the harbingers of the “boss” and their word was always final. Their authoritative stoicism made them completely unapproachable and that seemed to be used to their advantage.
Enter Human Resources. Things like training and understanding the external needs of the employee became more of a focus. There was a shift, albeit a slow one initially, that took place in the manner by which the organization chose to interact with the employee. It became, at least on the surface, a more communicative and synergistic approach. It was a significant change that was needed.
I see HR in the same place Personnel was, all those years ago. I speak to HR professionals and they feel a bit hog tied by the existing system/rules/whatever regarding what needs to happen next in the evolution of business and the profession we have collectively come to know as HR. The structure of their responsibility to the organization limits the way they can develop the employees. There are obvious exceptions, but most HR professionals recognize and deal with this tension week after week.
We have conferences about how to make HR better, but it’s all done under the idea of Human Resources. Those two words frame our approach, no matter how outside the box we try to think and act. I have a suggestion. What if HR wasn’t HR anymore? What if the name and function were different? Imagine the functional and operational shift that would happen if Human Resources were called Human Development. Let your creative juices flow around the idea that Human Resources would be changed to Talent Alignment.
If we were to change the nomenclature of how organizations interact with the human element, how would we approach that responsibility differently than we do – or are able to do – now? Could we truly unleash human potential while still meeting organizational goals and targets? How can we gain a competitive advantage in our respective markets by becoming profitable, human-centric organizations? What if our focus was self-management instead of self-perpetuation? These are difficult questions and there is no quick and simple answer. The conversation still needs to happen and we need to confront the inefficiencies of how we currently function without fear of bruising our professional egos.
Human Resources has brought an amazing legacy to business through the change it has facilitated from the specter of Personnel. That was a huge step and organizations are better off for having it take place. Business evolution must not and, more likely, will not stop. There will be laggards and leaders in the evolution of business and I think the next iteration of human interaction within the workplace should be the leaders.
What do you think could be some potential “names” for the next step in the evolutionary process of business regarding the human element within the organization?