Providing leadership for the life sciences industry

The Human Remains

Posted on 31/12/2013

With my legal training, business career and over 15 years in senior level executive search my ears have been tuned to listen to the words people semi-or-unconsciously use. So over time I have learned that subtle differences in a candidate’s choice of words can dramatically change the underlying meaning of what they are actually saying. For example in some circumstances using a “we” over an “I” can tell you that someone is truly part of a team or using “they” when talking about a current company can imply a tension or dispute with their Board or boss.

I thought it might be amusing to apply this kind of thinking to Job Titles to see whether any interesting insights might be developed that could stimulate discussion.

I decided to think about the transition over time that one corporate function has made with the titles it has chosen to use.

During the 1970’s and 80’s Personnel Departments across the UK began to metamorphose into Human Resources Departments and during the 00’s they began another transformation into Human Capital Management Departments.

What do these department names tell us?

We might want to look at the context of the period. During the 1970’s and 80’s the power of the trades unions was fatally diminished, aggressive corporate takeovers began to be the norm rather than being a shocking and gauche exception. The City began its rise to a dominant position in the UK (and US) economies, their mantra of increasing shareholder value became almost the sole purpose of commercial enterprises. This was the period during which the “social contract” between employer and employee was thrust firmly into the shredder!

Accordingly, the department that dealt with people, their work environment, reward and development, the department tasked with providing an interface between the corporation’s strategic need and those of the people within it had to change. They had to stop being personal with their Personnel … So what could they become?

Well, in the eyes of the company “their people” had to become assets of the business (“Our people are our greatest asset”). Assets are things that a company owns, shown on the balance sheet and the company’s property to use or dispose of as they see fit – resources to be used-up and then thrown away!

But don’t listen to me … Google “personnel” and you’ll find something like this:

“The body of persons (my italics) employed by or active in an organisation, business, or service.”

Now look up “resource”, you’ll find something like this:

“Any physical or virtual entity of limited availability that needs to be consumed to obtain a benefit from it.”

Do you think of yourself as a “resource” or a “person”? Does your company think differently?

So what happened next?

Well, the old century was brought to a climax with the “war for talent”. I was encouraged by the use of the word “talent”, it implies a recognition of people’s personal gifts and aptitudes but unfortunately corporations weren’t quite there yet. They’d focussed on the war!

Corporations had recognised their need for “Human resources” but couldn’t acquire them quickly or cheaply enough to satisfy the demands of the City, the shareholders or the strategy. So what to do? They looked at how they solved other shortages of resources. When a company needs more resources it goes out to raise … Capital!

Go on, Google it, you know you want to! You’ll find a definition like this:

“A factor of production that is not wanted for itself but for its ability to help in producing other goods or services.”

Does your company practice Human Capital Management? Are you wanted for yourself any more, or just for your ability to help “them” to produce other goods and services.

Motivating isn’t it, being an employee!

But there is hope, truly there is. Increasingly I deal with people in “Talent Management”. Talent is something that makes us all smile when we see it in action.

People are the only way for your company to succeed. Treasure them, nurture them and develop them. I urge you to manage your talent in the same way you manage yourself … with respect!

Call if you need any help.

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