I once heard someone use the expression “humans with resources.” I was told that I must write about it one day, so that’s what I’m going to do. I sincerely believe that words are of great importance and depending on how we refer to concepts, we perceive their meaning in different ways. The following is very clear:

Today many people share the idea that organizations no longer need more Human Resources but rather more Humans with Resources.

However, aside from the few exceptions where this organizational function is called “people management” or “human capital,” we continue to call it “human resources,” as if nothing has changed since the phrase was coined.

The origin of the concept

According to Wikipedia, it was the economist John R. Commons who first used the term “human resources.” In his book “Distribution of Wealth,” published in 1893, the term was not fully developed, it would be perceived as too modern…

It was later used between 1910 and 1920, along with the idea that workers could be a form of capital asset. At the university level, the first use of the phrase “human resources” in its modern form was in a 1958 report by economist E. Wight Bakke.

El futuro del trabajo

In 1911, Frederick W. Taylor published his reference book “Principles of Scientific Management.” Taylor proposed Management as a “revolution” that would solve productivity limits in organizations of the industrial age. It was the beginning of what we refer to today as “Taylorism.”

Taylor pioneered the idea of dividing the organization between thinkers (managers) and executors (workers), thus legitimizing the managerial profession as “thinking directors” of “non-thinking human resources.” “You are not here to think, you are here to work” are some of the expressions that still resonate in many companies.

Management, as we know it today, does not differ much from what Taylor describes more than a century ago; there are still many companies that work in this way, even though in today’s market it no longer makes sense, nor does it resonate with society.

In fact, today it is meaningless even in industrial companies, where the differentiating attribute of competitiveness is no longer efficiency at work but rather the company’s ability to enthuse its customers and earn their trust, preference, and recommendation.

This has more to do with how the company is organized and how it attracts and retains talent, and less from where and who does the actual work.

What is the typical role of “human resources”?

Normally it oversees selecting, hiring and training new employees, hand in hand with loyalty to the collaborators of the company. It is a matter of aligning the policies of HR with the strategy of the organization so that it can be implemented through its people.

The human resources function is usually composed of areas such as recruitment and selection, training, etc. Organizational communication, leadership, teamwork, negotiation and organizational culture are essential in carrying out organizational strategy.

You would expect that this company department or function is appreciated by all, but unfortunately, this is not always the way.

The problem is that in many cases the purpose of the human resources field is not strategic but deliberately tactical, because until now it has functioned more than sufficiently …

If we look back we can note that we have always talked about “strategic planning”; we currently have a very volatile, changing and uncertain environment. In fact, the military acronym that appeared in the 1990s, VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) is now also used to talk about strategy and leadership in organizations in general.

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From the complicated to the complex

Making a plane or a computer is a complicated process because it involves several channels (defined above) from the start of construction, until it is ready for sale (another process on top of creation). However laborious and difficult these processes are, someone has already solved them in an efficient and reproducible way – that is key.

A complicated problem has a predictable and unique solution. A complex problem has an unpredictable and open solution and there is not only one way to solve it.

A complex system, in addition to relying on many variables, has a high degree of uncertainty because it depends on uncontrollable factors such as the will of the people, or factors unrelated to the problem itself such as meteorological forecasts and/or business results.

A typical example of a complex problem is winning a competition in which we compete against other businesses we have not heard of, that depend on people we do not know, and in which we have made an attractive proposal. Unlike the others, we do not know what the outcome will be.

To solve the complicated, we need efficiency. To solve the complex, we need creativity.

If the problems of our work can be solved by a complicated robot, we will be out of work and not needed. However, if our problems are not predictable but complex, and require developing alternatives to find the optimum solution, we start talking about creativity.

Look at the following diagram:

When we step out to solve a predictable problem, we are talking about an obstacle, or a complication, as it’s a problem that hinders the achievement of something. If it is a predictable problem and we anticipate it, we are talking about maintenance.

When we react to a complex problem, we might call it a plight because it is a compromised situation that we cannot solve or overcome, unless we use creativity or ingenuity.

When we already have the resources to anticipate complexity, we are facing a real strategic opportunity; we are forward thinking to a problem that is not yet there but is one we can solve quickly and be ahead of our competitors.

Drucker said that managing is “doing things right” to achieve the objectives planned with available resources. Leading, he said, is “doing the right things” – that is, deciding what to do, and unleashing the unpredictable potential of people who work with and not for us.

To solve complicated problems both reactively and proactively, we need “operational” managers to help us overcome obstacles, maintain the right direction and achieve the expected results. If the problems are complex, we need these managers to react creatively. We need “Humans with Resources.”

How many of these people are there in your organization? What needs to happen in order to have more? How likely is it that your competitors are more creative?


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