Sunday, November 11, 2012

How does it feel to be a human resource?

I've talked before about "human resources", and how much I hate the term.

I'm not talking about things like a harassment free workplace, equal opportunity in hiring and promotion, and things like that.  I genuinely approve of those things.  I'm just talking about the entire concept of treating humans as resources.

Look, I'm a programmer--I understand the desire to quantify and systematize all things.  The problem is that we are not yet ready, as a society, to quantify and systematize humans.  That is, they are far, far too complex to do this successfully with, as of yet.  When it does happen, I'm pretty sure it won't look anything like it does now.

I will say that some people seem to do well when treated as a resource.  They seem to be happy working in very large organizations, pigeonholed into a strictly defined role where process is more important than product.  And I can even see how that sort of thing may be necessary, to an extent, in vary large organizations.  Unfortunately, it is this same thing that diffuses responsibility in those large organizations, to the point that the organization can do something terrible, but somehow no individual is responsible.  Which of course is highly immoral.

So I find it jarring to see that kind of thinking in a small organization.  What's more, we seem to be training an entire generation of people to be managers, as opposed to leaders.

This is a subject of great interest to me, that I've been discussing lately with a number of intelligent people.

To my mind, a leader is responsible.  A good leader is the sort of person where really you can sense their competence from a distance.  When they give an order, you want to obey it.  It's not just force of character per se, I think, but a sense also that their mind is clear, they know what they want to do, and they have reasons for engaging in things like discipline beyond the mere assertion of authority.

A manager, on the other hand, manages process.  Every interaction you have with a manager can be seen as an engagement with process, even within their own minds.  You can see it working on their faces.  Hiding with effort their true thoughts and feelings--not out of tact, but terror of making an error.  The last thing they want to do is engage with you as a person, because that breaks the process whereby you are transformed into a resource.

And these same folks wonder why their employees won't lay down their lives for the company.

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