When did we begin talking about humans as resources?

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Written by Elke Edwards on 23 December 2019

Reading time: 2m 30s.

I was talking to a Head of Marketing the other day who had just received an email from their parent company stating that from January 1st all the marketing would be done centrally. The email had gone to her whole team.

The clear message was that they were all out of work. There was no information about jobs in the central team, just information about when this would happen. There was no information about redundancy or their options. None. And this was not a small company. You would know their name.

In the same vein about a year ago I witnessed an HRD inform a whole division of over three thousand people of a similar decision, again via email. As he pressed send, he actually said “Oh I love technology, getting rid of people has never been so quick.” This was a global bank. You would know their name too.

The point is, this stuff still happens.

There are good people all over the place that habitually follow a process without considering the impact on the person.

In a brilliant book called Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux tracks the evolution of organisations over time, from ‘wolf packs’ where dictators reigned supreme, to army-like structures where process and form were mastered through to ‘machines’ where profit and process were the primary drivers and people became just another resource available for utilisation.

‘Machines’ made great strides in profitability, economies of scale enabling them to grow to global proportions. But there were downsides. Many. Feeling like a number, not feeling valued and doing work so detached from the ‘why’ it became meaningless all took its toll on the primary resource - people. And this is still where so many organisations are today.

Laloux’s book goes on to paint a picture of a more evolved organisation – one where people are genuinely connected emotionally and mentally to the work they do. Where they experience authentic appreciation, are listened to, and whose feelings are considered.

Funnily enough, the examples he sites demonstrate that this approach works both for the individual and the business... So how do we get there?

This is what bothers me. There are good people all over the place that habitually follow a process without considering the impact on the person. For example, saving negative feedback for three months until the performance review.

Not highlighting someone’s talents or supporting them to develop them. Not taking the time to remember that your colleague’s mum has dementia and the weekends may be tough. Emailing a message to the guy that sits two desks away.

Even though we are in a time when stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness are at all-time highs we are still ticking boxes as opposed to engaging with the human being next to us. So, look around you right now. Who have you stopped seeing and listening to because you are just SO busy?

Is that who you want to be?


About the author

Elke Edwards is the founder of Ivy House London.

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