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Resources, People

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Mar. 13th, 2008 | 11:57 am

A thought I just placed on Twitter:

" People are not resources. Computers are resources... people are individuals with particular skills, passions, and ways of thinking."

It is really easy to get lost in the "people are resources" mind camp.

"Human Resources"

We create departments in order to re-enforce this way of thinking. On charts and in discussions I hear this over and over.

I catch myself saying it.

It is a mental trap, something similar to saying "I want art on that wall"

It seems to be an excellent way to lower the chance of success.

(Nothing in particular brought on this thought other then a walk in the rain last week with a friend who caught me saying it.)

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Comments {7}

Mark Atwood

Use the term "Talent" instead

from: fallenpegasus
date: Mar. 13th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)

I recommend Seth Godin's comments about "Human Resources".


Understand that in days of yore, factories consisted of people and machines. The goal was to use more machines, fewer people, and to design processes so that the people were interchangeable, low cost and easily replaced. The more leverage the factory-owner had, the better. Hence Personnel or the even more cruel term: HR. It views people as a natural resource, like lumber.

Like it or not, in most organizations HR has grown up with a forms/clerical/factory focus. Which was fine, I guess, unless your goal was to do something amazing, something that had nothing to do with a factory, something that required amazing programmers, remarkable marketers or insanely talented strategy people.

So, here's my small suggestion, one that will make some uncomfortable.

Change the department name to Talent.

The reason this makes some people uncomfortable is that it seems like spin, like gratuitous double speak. And, if you don't change what you do, that would be true.


What if you started acting like the VP of Talent? Understanding that talent is hard to find and not obvious to manage. The VP of Talent would have to reorganize the department and do things differently all day long (small example: talent shouldn't have to fill out reams of forms and argue with the insurance company... talent is too busy for that... talent has people to help with that.)

Microsoft and Google both have a very healthy focus on finding and recruiting Talent. McDonald's recently announced that they want to hire people who smile more. The first strategy works, the second won't. Talent is too smart to stay long at a company that wants it to be a cog in a machine. Great companies want and need talent, but they have to work for it.

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Roy Corey

(no subject)

from: xerhino
date: Mar. 13th, 2008 07:21 pm (UTC)

There's a love affair between bureaucratic processes and using people as units of productivity. Bureaucracy tries to create a process for everything so that every action uses a known measure of resources. If you're brilliant, or even just wise and worldly, you could do things better and faster, but there's a process you have to follow. The bureaucratic leadership can't take the risk that you might mess something up, so you have to stick to the process.

So, using humans as a resource gives you a capacity number, work units available, and using bureaucratic processes gives you a cost for your actions. If you know how many work units a project costs you can schedule that many human resource units to do it. Viola! The business has a *perfect* schedule for the new release.

Of course you'd have to be retarded to think that humans can be split into an arbitrary number resource units for different projects without incurring a context switching overhead, or that adding human units to a project that is running late will do anything but make it later. And the more optimally a schedule uses it's resources the more brittle it becomes, failing for any small disruption. But heck, I'm sure other peoples management considers those things even though I've personally never seen it.

I believe Heinlien had a quote about treating people as a resource, but I can't think of it right now. It may be what you were getting at. Anyway, I agree.

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Roy Corey

Heinlein quote

from: xerhino
date: Mar. 13th, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC)

Oh, I found it. It's rather tangential to the post, but I like it so here it is anyway. :-)

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

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Brian "Krow" Aker

Re: Heinlein quote

from: krow
date: Mar. 13th, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)

Heinlein quotes make for awesome first salvos into a flame way :)

I cannot, for the record, change a diaper. Babies should be free ranged.

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Susan Paraventur

(no subject)

from: paraventur
date: Mar. 13th, 2008 09:11 pm (UTC)

we've been interviewing potential managers (yes, I am getting to help choose my manager) and last week one referred to "contract resources". If you're talking to management, OK, I could see it as being a buzz word. But to me it said that you are going to see us as things not people.

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(no subject)

from: kytty
date: Mar. 13th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)

Funny, my favorite History Prof would send letters or memos back to his University HR office with notes to the effect that he isn't a resource and isn't going to be called one. They were frustrated with him, to say the very least.

I sometimes use the word resource meaning a source for something or other. For instance, someone had connections to a group and I said that I would keep in mind that he was a resource for that information. Not sure if that crosses the line or not. What do you think?

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(no subject)

from: awfief
date: Mar. 14th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC)

Hrm.....businesses see computers and people both as resources.

People aren't resources, they're resourceful. However, people's time is a resource. My current environment consists of time units that people pay for per month, and employees that work a certain number of hours per week. Therefore, I can say "We don't have the resources this month" or "in order to have the resources this month my blogging time will get cut" because the resource is time, not a person.

It's like the "art/porn" discussion -- I can't completely define when it turns from "respecting my work and my time" to "objectifying me", but I know it when I see it.

I guess that's really what it is -- the objectification of people as "workers". That's not what they do, or who they are, it's one small part of their lives.

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