Some question the term “human resources” because they believe it may objectify people. Based on that definition people become resources like computers, desks, phones, or vehicles. While few managers would agree with this view and even though most companies say that people are their greatest resource, employees at times perceive they are treated like objects. Traditional management practices tend to create this perception, and many times do so without intention. This does not make human resources a bad term, but simply a bad definition that has developed over time.
It is true that people are human and, in my experience, people desire to be a valuable, contributing resource at work. Resource becomes derogatory when organizations use people without consideration of their humanity. In that case, they define the person without consideration of who they are and who they can become. This occurs when managers attempt to conform people to their expectations without consideration of each person’s uniqueness.
Once you, as a leader, take the responsibility to understand the people on your team based on each person’s unique ability to contribute, human resources will be redefined. Three practices will begin your development of this capacity.
Leaders develop the capacity to understand people, clarifying both individual and group potential. The primary skill required is nonjudgmental observation. All of the information you need is readily available and accessible. Watch and listen to learn about those you lead and position them to contribute successfully.
This is a challenge because many of those you lead today are not fully aware of their own potential. As you learn about the people you lead, you will also guide them to become more aware of their own capacity. I hear discussion about employee engagement. One of the keys to engagement is awareness of the capacity each person possesses. It is their abilities, strengths, and knowledge that they must be aware of and you must engage.
When you observe potential in a person on your team, position them to discover it. Allow him or her to investigate personal potential by attempting something he or she has not yet mastered. Do not set a person up for a level of failure that discourages him or her and puts the outcome at unacceptable risk. Do challenge them beyond their current contribution level. Present the opportunity based on your observation of unrecognized potential. The learning opportunity is an investment whether the person succeeds easily or struggles toward mastery of new skills.
The leadership capacity of development is important because it ensures that people are appreciated as a resource based on personal uniqueness. You appreciate who a person is by engaging everyone based on what each individual is best equipped to accomplish. Beyond that, you give every individual the opportunity to excel beyond personal expectations. With this practice, you, your team, and the organization will benefit from the individual and collective performance results.