Human Resources – Is About People

This post is an opinion piece. Our arguments in favor of a healthy and agile human resources team are based on professional experience. Links that may appear in this post are not “affiliate links.”   

HR or HRM has been a vital part of the organizational structure since the 1920s. Previously known as “personnel administration,” it initially concerned itself with the administration of technical aspects of the organization, like hiring, evaluating, training and compensation.

In response to new competitive landscapes and predictions about the future of work in the 1970s, “administration” turned into “management” with a greater emphasis on strategic planning to develop a stronger, engaged, and productive workforce. 

To widen the scope of its strategic responsibilities and expand on the variety of people under the umbrella of “personnel”, the terminology evolved once again into “human resources,” a change in semantics that hoped to convey an emphasis on the people that did the work as the assets or resources of the organization; in terms of capabilities, time, effort, input, and output. 

Human Resources also aspired to lead people through all stages of their career path within the organization, providing all the necessary guidance and tools to align people’s work with the organizational culture, short-term objectives, and long-term business goals.

As we can see, HR or HRM has been adapting to changes in the work ecosystem ever since it first showed up as part of contemporary organizational structures and management. It has evolved to include new and exciting changes, and we believe it will again. We might even say it’s going through a new phase of its transformation as we speak. 

But transformation means growing, evolving to incorporate new ideas, perspectives, and strategies. As agile professionals and people directly impacted by HRM, we need to welcome the transformation, resisting the visceral need to vilify, destroy, and erase.

Let’s start making the shift!

Does the concept of Human Resources Trigger You? 

We were recently listening to an episode of the WIA Podcast about burnt out. In the episode, the host of the show confessed to feeling triggered by the use of the term “human resources” by the show’s guest. 

An interesting conversation ensued, which opened a healthy dialog on the subject. Yet, the intensity of the feelings expressed by the host also got us asking: why?

We’re not blind to the fact that negative connotations have been attached to HR for years.

However, as we’ve seen in the above introduction, HR has been evolving as times have progressed, organizations have changed and the role of people in them has changed. Yes, they may have been resistance by some camps, but also, there have been great strides.

What is the role HR has played in its perception and reputation?

First of all, we must emphasize that not all HR departments have been created equal. However, those self-aware, self-assessing, and agile HR teams and leaders are still being dragged through the mud with the non-functioning departments. One negative experience is enough.

Among the biggest complaints people have about their working experience, which fall directly on the lap of HRM and the experience they, in turn, provide or hinder are:

  • Ambiguity in roles, responsibilities, and communications.
  • Perception of favoritism.
  • Lack of transparency.
  • A disconnect between employees and management.
  • Unclear career or learning paths.
  • Communication silos.
  • Bullying and hostile work environment.
  • Lack of resources and tools.
  • Lack of work-life-balance programs, flexibility, and PTO.
  • Lack of on-going performance conversations.
  • Difficult Managers.
  • Changing priorities.
  • Lack of talent management and training programs.

We can explore each of these bullet points further in upcoming posts. For now, it’s enough to acknowledge they exist, and are still impacting the organization and the perception of people in it.

Engaging with HR cannot be relegated to a few fixed points in the employee’s work cycle. If you only engage with HR as you come in, as you are being admonished, investigated, evaluated, or as you are heading out, your perception of its role will be limited to highly stressful and negative situations or experiences. 

How to Reframe HR, Transform its Meaning and Elevate People in the Process? 

Agile HR is the next phase in the evolution of human resources. Agility is the lens through which we can see, assess and engage every aspect of HR without having to do a complete overhaul.

As an HR professional, you will reframe HR as a strategic facilitator between organizational values and culture and the people who embrace it and live it every day. A new sense of agility will allow for movement and interconnectivity, active feedback, and open communication.

Implementing an agility framework to design and cultivate a new experience with HR, will slowly but surely erode its negative perception within your organization. 

Human Resources should place and practice a great emphasis on the “human” aspect of its name. Humanizing communication and empathy are at the center of this transformation. Referring to people as “resources” should be made into a source of individual and team empowerment.

Because, at its most elemental, your human resources are the people you can count on

When the emphasis is placed on “people” as “disposable” material resources, machines or pieces of furniture, we believe this is the result of negative experiences and an unproductive focus on semantics, rather than on the practices, principles and people HR wants to represent.

Resources are assets, competencies, perspectives. People as resources move the highest ideas and ideals of an organization forward. How can you be a better “resource” to your organization or team means, how can you “serve” your organization and team better, as an agile leader.

There are two elements we must keep in mind, which are essential to cultivating the kind of agile experience that can transform HR. 

Be willing to offer sincere Validation:  

  • Think and speak from a place of empathy. Understand that people in your team may have had different and maybe negative experiences interacting with HR.
  • Validate those emotions, responses, or reactions and offer a new alternative.
  • Ask for constant and objective feedback from your team and proactively communicate their responses to HR. Build bridges between your team and HRM.

By offering validation first you are acknowledging past experiences and creating a safe space to talk about those experiences openly.

Your objective is not to “change people’s minds” about what happened to them in other work environments, but to show them how things are done differently in your organization and team, and how they can contribute to making things better. 

Be open to embracing periodical Reinvention:

  • Resist the urge to go on the defensive or counter-attack. Remember, HR as you know it has been evolving from its very beginning.
  • Walk the Talk and vice versa. Find ways to actively model the mindset and behaviors of new HR leadership. Bring the agile “face” of HR into every interaction.
  • Use the feedback you get from your teams and other leaders in the organization to engage in periodical retrospections about the performance, perception and participation of HR

By embracing the power of reinvention, you show people HR is a living aspect of the organization, a team they are all part of. And by acknowledging there’s always room for self-assessment and the incorporation of new perspectives you empower them to do the same. 

For now, let’s make an intentional commitment to create the foundation and cultivate the practices of agile HR and stay #agileforlife.


Next Action Step: Listen to the WIA Podcast.

Agile & Co. is an HR & Comms. Consulting Firm, with a focus on People & Culture that embraces an agile mindset and management style. It serves small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs, offering coaching, mentoring, or consultation, to assist in the co-creation, development, and transformation of their organizational flow and people experience, in a humanized, collaborative and agile way. Follow @myagilehr #agileforbiz #agileforlife

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