Food for thought: The end of human resources

Food for thought: The end of human resources

Wait. It’s not what you think. I love, love, love the human resources department, and the people who work in this field are great, but in my experience, I think what is traditionally assigned to HR doesn’t tap into its potential. This piece is about the viability and possibility of what this department could stand for if reinvented and the powerful results it could produce.

HR originally stood for the processing of people — the obligatory tasks of administration, recruiting, succession planning, legal and moral issues, et cetera. What I am talking about is taking a fresh look at this department for the purpose of creating a new kind of future around overall well-being (and well-doing). I am suggesting the same-old-same-old has been around a long time. Maintaining it this way is just okay. (As in, radio was fine, who needs television?)

Let’s play with this: One of the tenets of my company is to question the status quo, language, systems and procedures that often go unquestioned for years and really limit the potential of a business as well as every one touched in any way by that business.

First, below are two definitions of “resources.” The first comes from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and the second is from


  • The total means available to a company for increasing production or profit, including plant, labor and raw material; assets
  • A person, asset, material or capital that can be used to accomplish a goal
It seems funny to me the word human precedes resources, as if we had animal resources as well and needed to distinguish between the two. There is nothing inherently wrong with the terms human resources, employees or managers. My inquiry is, what does it mean to the person and organization to live into descriptive but ineffective terms?  

Could we invent a better name for our HR departments to assist in really driving culture? The term resources rings of something to be used, and employee doesn’t call people to anything in particular. Envision this department supporting a culture where we hire people recognizing that each individual has a distinct gift. By cultivating these gifts we get enlivened individuals working with us to generate unparalleled experiences for people. Sometimes they may lead as well as follow, but they always deliver excellence because the environment (culture) supports the well-being of individuals. What would you call the HR department if you wanted the focus to go beyond the usual? 

Some other areas to consider:

Job descriptions

Take the word “job.” Hmmmmm. Sexy, isn’t it? At the very least, it doesn’t call out the best in someone. I know we all want people on our teams that have enthusiasm that goes beyond a job description, but how many of our “job” descriptions call out the inspiration we want to see? If we are going to describe something, why not get to the result we have in mind instead of just the actions? This area is rich with opportunity to drive commitment and behavior.

Performance reviews  

I think there is room for opportunity in this arena pretty much everywhere. Reviewing basic standards is a good thing from time to time, but mostly what we measure our staff on will not create a culture of acolytes among your guests. Why not measure passion? What you focus on you get more of. I was once asked to write the operating system for a new luxury boutique hotel. It was 1,200 pages. While it included how to cut a lime for sparkling water, at its core was the ability to create the biggest wow factor in every interaction. I also rewrote performance reviews to measure participation, idea generation and number of recorded wows. Even the stewards had a group goal on our TripAdvisor ratings. Truly, you don’t need the usual blah-blah-blah reviews when you are measuring passion and impact. People who feel appreciated, acknowledged and are often told they make a difference really get the bigger meaning of why they work with you each day and show up with a different commitment.

If your HR director’s new business card read “cultural attaché,” what changes might you expect? Have fun …