Every organization has human resources although not every organization has created a department for them, but how do we get the most out of HR?

The constitution of the name itself: ” human resources ”, differs from how we have named other organizational departments. It is a more abstract department name that invokes very different understandings from people, more so than say for example department names such as “finance”, “marketing” or “sales”.

The constitution of the name itself “human resources”, differs from how we have named other organizational departments. It is a more abstract department name that invokes very different understandings from people, more so than say for example department names such as “finance”, “marketing” or “sales”.

I asked one of my colleagues what she thought of the word itself, “Human resources”, as a name for a department or function. She said it made her think of a cynical employer that views the employees as mere resources to be managed and perhaps even consumed. To me this was a very interesting response, because I have personally always considered the department term “human resources” to be associated with an organization that views employees as something precious that needs to be handled delicately. Perhaps it is our definition of the words “human” and “resources” that determines our perception of the term “human resources”, but it was fitting to have a theological dispute over the term since the department Human resources can also mean a whole lot of different things in practice.

Human resources – a diverse department

Some companies have limited human resources to be mainly about salary management, workplace deviations and policy drafting. Other organizations rely heavily on HR for recruitment, public relations, office management and much more. Very few organizations though, are living up to “my” idea stated above of the human resource department as delicately managing the most precious of company resources – the humans.

Do not get me wrong here, HR departments and individuals are doing a great job out there in so many workplaces, this is not an article aimed at busting the importance of the department human resources. Quite the contrary, human resources as a department and key focus is something that most organizations are neglecting, and they are putting operational restraints on HR personnel that is seriously hampering their business. This is where I would like to go back to the cliff hanger from my previous part in this chronicle, saying that there is a lesson to be learned here from the world of professional sports.

An HR lesson from sports

american footballers
american footballers

In professional sports, many organizations have a very similar set up to traditional business life organizations. There is a boss (the coach or general manager), there is a group of employees with different assignments (players in the team) and there is another group of employees with supportive assignments (physicians, trainers, equipment managers etc). The big difference between professional sports and most business organizations is that professional sports often place a much larger importance on one of their supportive functions: their HR-department.

In sports, the name for this supportive function or individuals is not commonly referred to as “human resources” but they are most definitely tasked with delicately managing the precious human resource. One name for this that is quite common is “player management” or simply “player manager” (PM). Many times, in the world of sports, this department or individual sole purpose and only job description is: Keep the players/employees happy. Why? Because in sports it is a well-known fact that happy players perform their job much better.

The player manager does not manage the salary of the players, he or she usually knows nothing about drafting policies or regulations and the PM rarely does any administrative work at all. Instead, the PM steps in and onboards new members of the team culturally and socially, taking care of a huge number of things outside the “workplace”. They make sure that new team members get enough social interaction outside the team, that they have somewhere to live, that they get started with a hobby or that they learn a new language and culture. And that is just naming a few areas of responsibility for the PM.

Human resources revised – making the absurd the new normal

Taken into the context of a regular company, let us say within construction, this is still seen as an absurdity. Imaging being employed as a strategic purchaser at a big construction firm and you would always have someone in the office that was paid to ask you “how are you doing, I mean really?”. This same someone would also make sure that you devoted enough time to your family and remembered your husband’s birthdays. Maybe this someone also made sure you got along well with your colleagues and just asked you out to lunch every now and then.

This would still be considered an extreme luxury in regular business life, reserved for a very few high executives with “do-it-all” kind of secretaries, but from an employer perspective it might actually not be an expensive part of running a company, at all. In fact, it might be a very lucrative scenario where you would end up with employees a lot more productive, loyal and competent than the competition. After all, professional sports team do not employ player managers out of solidarity with the players, they do it to beat the competition and win titles.

Right now, in western business life, organizations are experiencing escalating costs connected to employee’s general unhappiness with life, not just with work life. Many times, it is not the organizations fault that someone falls ill with depression or loses productivity due to anxiety. It does not matter; it is the company that will end up paying dearly for having to recruit new competence or paying sick leave.  And many times, it is the flawed conditions of workplaces and organizations that causes people to leave the company, perform worse or fall ill.

My point is that it would make financial sense for many companies and organizations to employ their own “player managers”, no matter how responsible their workplace might or might not be for their employee’s happiness. By taking a wider responsibility than just the workplace and the job assignments for their employees, they will experience a higher protection against costs related to recruitment, sick leave, talent retention etc.

Going the distance with human resources

Companies are slowly waking up to this reality and we are seeing signs of a shift in the market right now. Companies like Google, Spotify, Uber or Samsung are spending tons of resources on office environments, team building activities and out-of-office related topics. They have realized (or at least making it look like they have realized) that it is cheaper to take care of your resources, than consuming them. Other signs are the emergence of player manager-related job titles. Heart managers, mood manager and cultural officers are becoming a much more frequent sight in lists of employees at companies. This is heartening, but most of the time these new job titles are still riddled with administrative and non-social duties, preventing them from creating the maximum amount of value within their organisation.

Furthermore, if the job description entails other tasks than just keeping employees happy, companies will be recruiting people for these jobs that are good at other things than just keeping employees happy (naturally). Being a great salary manager does not mean that you are not also a great people person, but it narrows the recruitment pool for companies if they must look for multi-competent personnel.

It might still seem controversial, but for many organizations it is a good deal financially to employ a highly social skilled person just to keep employees happy. Exactly what that means varies between organizations and individuals (of course), and I would love to talk more about your specific organization, but I do believe it is time to add this job title and responsibility to HR in general, for real. It is time to unleash the real power of HR.

Sincerely, Olle Fagerstedt