I was chatting with a colleague recently about one of my major pet peeves: the use of the term "resources" in reference to people. We talk about human resources, which Merriam-Webster defines as, "a group of people who are able to do work."
Of course, I've often heard this shortened to resources, i.e., "we're getting some new resources," or "get one of your resources to do it." Now we're dealing with a highly impersonal definition: "a place or thing that provides something useful."
I strongly dislike the term "resource," hence this post. A resource is something that you use to achieve a goal. If it runs out, you replace it. It's expendable, generic, and it garners no attachment of any sort. It doesn't require any investment in skills development. It brings to mind an image of something that's mined and loaded onto the back of a truck or something that comes off of a production line and then sits in a warehouse until you need it. It's something that you acquire and it goes onto your balance sheet and depreciates until it's either finished or broken.
As a leader, I work with people, not resources. An employee is far more than just a thing that provides something useful. People are unique; they have strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad days. They'll appreciate a sincere "thank you" or "well done!" every once in a while. They are not always the same. As a leader, you need to know them well enough to play them to their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. You need to realize that they will not and cannot perform at their peak 365 days a year. Perhaps they've got the flu, or perhaps their dog died and they can't focus for a couple of days. You can't expect Joe to be just as good at a particular task as Jane – they're not light bulbs that you can interchange without any noticeable effect. Jane might have a knack for it, Joe might not; and to lead your team effectively, you need to know that.
People have limits, and they might break if you push them too far. Unlike light bulbs, they're not easy to replace. The sad reality is, once you lose sight of the fact that you work with individuals, and you place your people in the same category as your printers it becomes very easy to push them past their limits. That's when people leave and projects fail.
Some companies have ditched the term "human resources" in favor of "human capital." It's better, but I'm still not fond of it. Maybe it's because I'm a millennial and us youngsters tend to have strange ideas, or perhaps it's because I enjoy the study of language and get a kick out of lexical semantics, or maybe, just maybe, we need to change our language in order to start changing our paradigms. What do you think?