Human Resources: The Forgotten Treasure

While I could easily use this time to expound on the mis-utilization of the term “knowledge management”, I’d like to focus on a term which suffers from a similar dilemma: it communicates
something other than the words would imply. It is a “familiar” concept that we’ve become too comfortable with to notice the threads going bare: the management of human resources.

Consider this. Most companies have an entire department dedicated to this activity. Most of their activities are administrative in nature. The complete potential of the human contribution to an
organization is largely untapped. How is this? Don’t most people lead different lives when they leave work? How many people do one thing by day and another by night? To reach total fulfillment an
individual needs balance in their work. The perspectives of someone who is a jazz musician may help solve a process problem through a related analogy. Do skills assessments of individuals include
all of their skills?

For all of the companies you worked for, can you recall the name of just one individual from the Human Resources department? I ask this question to assess whether or not you developed a
“relationship” with such an individual. While I know that there are many talented people who make contributions of “intercession” and “coaching” to staff, I’ve never been assigned nor was
able to develop a relationship with someone who was interested in finding out what my potential was and help me optimize that potential. In fact, the department’s very charter is at odds with such
an approach: hire the best person for the job at the best rate. This model assumes that we’re fitting parts into a machine. Few companies operate with a model where you hire someone for their
overall talent and potential and then find a variety of roles for them to contribute to the overall goals of the organization. In the latter instance, there has to be a much closer relationship
between the resource and the organization — they both need to know the strengths and weaknesses of one another to determine how they can best serve one another.

That said, why do we have a department focused on just one aspect of the resources of a company? Shouldn’t there be a department or collective function that focuses on the building of
relationships between ALL of the resources of the company — literally allowing the human resources to know which technology resources and capital resources are available to them
to optimize their contribution to the organization?

One way to optimize the potential of any organism or collective of organisms is to facilitate synergies between the components. Here’s a scenario (actually, a personal experience). I’m an
employee with a new project. I’ve been given a couple of names to contact. I go to the printed company directory to look up their names and find their phone numbers to call them (bear in mind,
this is an “old” scenario when there were no PC networks). Here were the conditions of the moment (the ethnographical factors):

  • The directory is printed every 6 months
  • I’ve been with the company for 3 months
  • Only employees are included in the directory
  • A large portion of the staff are contract
  • I’ve discovered that the directory is stored on and can actually be accessed on the mainframe

Whatever the combination of circumstances are, I cannot find either of the people I’ve been asked to contact, so I call the person responsible for the printing of the directory. I explain my
situation and ask him why the directory is not updated, continuously, in the online version. I suggest that perhaps the administrative assistants from the various departments might be given access
to the data to update it directly (or indirectly with a “certification” process prior to commitment). His response: “You must not have anything important to do if you have time to worry about
this!” Such was the culture of this organization; not likely very different from many experiences you have had. This was almost 10 years ago. What has been the progress?

I had a task to complete and had barriers in my way. Are the staff in human resources either prepared or trained to facilitate the removal of barriers? Are these not basic necessities for the
operating needs of a human resource? We have disciplines for which considerable effort is focused on optimizing manufacturing processes, yet we seem to have no one watching to optimize human

Where would such a responsibility lie? The solution could have been facilitated technologically…I even had a simple solution that could have been put in place with the existing technology. All
that was missing was a change in process and a sense of responsibility on the part of the “gatekeeper”. Perhaps his response reflected his frustration over his inability to perform his own job

A number of core principles fall out from this observation:

  • The potential of the human resources of organizations are both under- and mis-utilized
  • The optimization of human resources requires an infrastructure to connect all resources for reciprocal utilization
  • A very simple methodology can be put in place. It requires just two questions: Where are the barriers to process flow? How can the barriers be eliminated? (This could potentially include
    changing the process altogether and/or reidentifying the real problem.)
  • The solution will be self-organizing

The activities of managing human resources is distributed. People join, contribute to, and leave a company based on predominately “local” influences and relationships. While these activities can
and would occur without any centralized department, there are “unassigned” activities which are left over. These activities would best be identified under the topic “Employee Administration”.
The management of human resources should be redefined and facilitated by different skillsets.

These distinctions are necessary before we can begin to tackle the next nebulous assignment: knowledge management.

Note from author: Right after I submitted this editorial I stumbled onto the work of Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He has a whole
book dedicated to this subject, titled “The Human Equation”.

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Paula Thornton

Paula Thornton

Most recently serving as the Information Architect for warehouseMCI -, Paula Thornton works to act as an "industry facilitator," directed by an irreverent but respectful attitude toward progress in the industry.

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