The phrase ‘Human Resources’ comes from a time when organisations and the people who worked for them were seen in mechanistic terms. A time of business process re-engineering, of concepts borrowed from manufacturing or computer science and super-imposed onto the much less precision engineered world of people with their feelings and emotions, their ever-changing moods and relationships. The classic model of change suggests that change is a matter of evaluating the ‘as-is’, envisioning the ‘to be’, working out what the difference is and making the necessary changes. As if the ‘as-is’ were a constant – as if the ‘to-be’ is something one person can imagine alone – and as if it were simply a matter of moving pieces around like a child’s play-set. From the executive’s point of view it’s easy to see the appeal; it plays into beliefs about status, influence, potency and power. I imagine the dolls-house to be this way – facilities can go and arrange the furniture and HR can arrange the dolls… Have you ever felt like a doll in someone else’s doll-house? This is what comes of thinking of humans as resources, as parts of a machine.
The Mechanistic Age still lingers in many places, of course.
More enlightened individuals and organisations are heralding the dawn of the Age of Purpose with flatter structures, non-managerial routes for career progression and working practices that offer greater levels of trust in employees.
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