Employees are not assets

How can Human Resources continue to justify its name when it is repeatedly characterized by figures, statistics, and testing?

by Lucy Adams


Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR, believes that this must change, we spoke to her about how we can go about doing that: ensuring that HR continues to live up to its namesake in the years to come.

Lucy states that her life was always centred around Human Resources, and that the motivations and aspirations behind HR have always been aligned with her own. However over the course of time, as many industries and businesses have seen massive disruption, Lucy explains that HR has been almost been entirely ignored and lost its way.

In fact, HR has been operating in very much the same way since the 80s – taking the role of the critical parent more so than anything else. For one thing, employees are not children, but for a long time, HR has viewed them as anything but adults. This is reflected in the habit of HR to sit down with employees once a year to give them a rating on their performance, emails which spoon feed simple information and the general hate that HR seems to attract the world over.

A lot of this, Lucy explains, stems from the fact that HR has over time become more closely tied to finance than to anything else. With a focus on numbers, deliverables and the objective rather than feelings, personal journeys and the subjective. This is wrong she says, and the use of the very strange, pseudo-dehumanising notion that employees are assets only further emphasizes this point. Computers and desks are assets, employees are people.

People who have individual wants and motivations, and require tailored care rather than an all-encompassing universal system that views them as simply part of the herd. By the same token, these individuals often suffer for any mistakes the lowest common denominator in a company might make, with the rules enforced often being both irrelevant and alienating for the majority.

After a decade in the business, Lucy founded Disruptive HR to right these industry wrongs. For one, HR should no longer be associated with finance, we should instead look to marketing for our inspiration. In marketing, through the use of data and reiteration, marketers discover the intricacies of what their customers’ needs and facilitate scenarios that are in win-win for all parties involved.

Such re-imaginings have led Lucy and Disruptive HR to a realising a more people-centred philosophy, EACH: Employee, Adult, Consumer, and Human.

Adult in the sense that HR is neither a police officer nor nurse of company employees. Instead, employees are responsible for their own onboarding processes when joining a company, once joined they are then given the trust, and therefore the freedom, to undertake their roles in the ways they see fit. Innovative organizations across the world today have already begun to understand this, and if HR does away with yearly reviews, instead opting for a more healthy ongoing dialogue, they are easily equipped to engage in that working style if it for whatever reason it fails to deliver.

Consumer goes back to siding more with marketing than finance in the future, particularly in regards to onboarding. Onboarding is a crucial filter for which companies must sift through talents in order to obtain those who are the best fit with their organizational values and vision. Today, in our hyper-competitive environment, onboarding is more of a broadcasting exercise. The modern day workforce values flexibility, transparency and purpose. Onboarding today is about sharing these values with the world and engaging with potential employees in a manner that fosters a common understanding between both parties before they have even joined. From there, it becomes much clearer how to aid these individuals, and the business, once they are part of the company.

Finally, Human, the underpinning value which should act as the cornerstone for any HR project. As HR became closer to finance over the decades, it also picked up some of its cold, mechanical methodologies. Performance management today is designed with metrics in mind, not the actual individual in question. It should come as no surprise that metrifying people doesn’t boost production.

Ultimately, Lucy believes, HR needs to start innovating as other industries have, and put the human back into the equation. By sticking to the principles of EACH – they might just do that.