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People, Not Resources

“People are our most important asset.” There’s a good chance that your company values include a statement to this effect. We can all better honor the spirit of that value by referring to our people as people, not resources. By calling people ‘resources’ we’re putting them in the same category as office supplies, desks, office space, and machinery. It’s dehumanizing. It suggests that humans are interchangeable meat widgets.

Image by Flickr user  nuwandalice  via  Creative Commons license .

Image by Flickr user nuwandalice via Creative Commons license.

Language and labels matter. They frame our mental models and form our culture. Changing language and labels can send a powerful signal. Google realized this over a decade ago when they renamed their HR department to People Operations, and a growing number of forward-thinking organizations are doing the same.

“But how can I change the language in my organization?” you ask. Next time someone uses the ‘r’ word when referring to people, you can respond (with a smile), “By resources, do you mean people? When someone says ‘resources’, to me it sounds like ‘meat widgets’.” This tends to generate a good laugh, and the next time someone uses the ‘r’ word, you might be happily surprised when someone else responds back with ‘Do you mean meat widgets?”

I want to send a shout out to Craig Larman for introducing me to the term meat widget. :-)