What Price Human

Are you human?

My friend Gem Reucroft wrote an amazing piece about the lack of humanness in human resources.

Interestingly Gem and I have never actually met in person but I’ve been around a long time and I know people: we would get on famously. When we do meet I’m gonna buy she, her entire family and all her cronies the first round. And the second.

Some people you just know about.


She raises a good point: why do we deny the need to be human in HR?

We’ve gotten defocused in the US, so taken by numbers and strategies that we cannot sometimes recall how we got here. You remember people, right? The folks down the hall that produce the products and services we sell? We take care of them.

That’s what we do.

Long ago I made orange juice for a living (true) and the mission of our HR team was so simple I can rememeber it clearly 20 years on: we take care of the people who take care of the juice.

In the midst of overt racism, sexism and the internecine battle of a pitched union campaign we meant it: whatever side you were on, whatever you did, if you worked there, we cared for you. We were human. And by god if you needed someone to get your back so you could do your work my team of little old ladies would knock over anyone standing in your way.

We cared about you.

I was – and am – so proud of them.

Somewhere along the way though it became passé – so we were told – to evidence real care about people. Concurrent with the M&A craze of the 90s and the rise of the MBA a lot of HR people started to buy into the notion that value was measured only in numbers and graphs.

People were on their own.



We’re now a full generation into HR professionals who have been told caring is code for paternalism, that thinking about people obviates the need for them to lead their own lives and make their own choices. An odious vestigial practice that begets co-dependence.

Bullshit again.

I’ve worked with people from Ph.D.s to hot tar road mixers and every one of them took care of their own lives and made their own choices before they met me: they didn’t need HR for that. Somehow in every job I ever took from the sand dunes of West Texas to the orange groves of South Florida to the Santa Ana’s of LA people were looking our for themselves long before (and after) I was there.

People can care for themselves, and do. But it doesn’t hurt to have a little help.

HR is a proud profession if you allow its truth to set in.

You don’t have to search for strategic ways to add value: we do that through training and development and meaningful comp plans and benefits and tying personal and business need together. Through synchronization of personal and organizational success.

Our value is in taking care of the people who take care of the business.

And if that makes us a little more human, well, I’m more than okay with that.


5 thoughts on “What Price Human

  1. Chris…this was an outstanding post! I think you said it best…HR should focus on its core priority…their people. As you mentioned there has been a new generational influence where HR is more focused on its business acumen (a new school of thought in my opinion). Although change is always good…along with change comes growing pains and I feel this transition HR is going through is no different. Once all the dust settles, I hope practitioners will once again understand their vocation…and yes, service to others is a calling.

    • Thank you Ernie! I believe we can be business partners with strategic value and human and humane compassion: it can, does and should all come together. I appreciate your thoughts and your blog sir: keep writing!

  2. Thank you Alan – I have to agree with JoAnn. We do lots of strategic things in HR, I’m fine with that. I just think we ought to remember the H a little more!

  3. Pingback: Get your fluffy on | hrgem

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s