Lit : Widgets. The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People
Excerpt | Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets. Assets are property. You don’t own your people.
Many of them don’t trust you. Some don’t like you. Too many won’t stick it out with you. And the ones you need most have the credentials to walk out fastest if you treat them poorly.
Humans are not resources. No manager talks about having coffee with one of her “humans.” No father holds his young son and hopes he will one day grow up to be a great “resource.”
Your employees are not “full-time equivalents.” No college graduate, upon landing her first big job, calls her parents to announce, “I’m now an FTE!” No hardworking employee considers himself part of the company’s “headcount.” “Headcount” is for cattle. Your employees are not “talent.” They are not “human capital,” to be saved, spent, or loaned like money. They are not “overhead.” They are not the numbers each is assigned when hired. They are not, as one staffing firm refers to them, “inventory,” or as one home improvement chain called them, “aprons.”
They are not, as tech people sometimes call them, “meatware.”
Above all, employees are not “human resources.” Money is a resource. Land is a resource. So are water, oil, trees, buildings, computers, gold, coal, cattle, and coffee beans. Resources are rarely unique. One load of two-by-fours is much like another. Resources are the raw materials from which a business creates a product.
Humans are not resources. No manager talks about having coffee with one of her “humans.” No father holds his young son and hopes he will one day grow up to be a great “resource.” It is difficult to have the right relationship between a company and its people when the corporate function responsible for doing so goes by a euphemism. You might as well call them widgets, flesh-and-blood widgets.
Once people are seen as widgets—as “human resources”— it’s much easier to apply to them the kinds of Operationspeak that should be reserved for raw materials.
That’s what the term “human resources” means. That’s how they are too often treated. In trying to get a better seat at the executive table with number-crunching departments like Accounting and Operations and Marketing, the executives in charge of the hiring, culture, payroll, insurance, and training were seduced into using impersonal metrics for persons. Business lost its bearings in how to deal with people.
Once people are seen as widgets—as “human resources”— it’s much easier to apply to them the kinds of Operationspeak that should be reserved for raw materials. They are “downsized,” “attritted,” “onboarded,” “blended,” “change-managed,” “diversity-trained,” “e-taught,” “force-ranked,” “matrixed,” “requisitioned,” or “made redundant.”
The temptation to treat people like widgets is not new.
In the human resources machinery, people’s entire working lives too often are reduced to a series of clicks on an automated “selection system” and sorted by computer into “As,” “Bs,” and “Cs” for the hiring manager. They are stereotyped by their generation, rated on their “competencies” and their computer-calculated “strengths,” combined for a “group dynamic” designed by an “industrial psychologist,” tracked by a “human resources information system,” and tagged with a Myers- Briggs Type Indicator. They are analyzed for target “behaviors.” They are ordered to pee in a cup and hand it over.
The temptation to treat people like widgets is not new. Charlie Chaplin made a movie about it in 1936. Henry Ford is reputed to have complained, “Why is it that I always get the whole person when what I really want is a pair of hands?”
More than a century ago, Frederick Winslow Taylor, the pioneer of time-and-motion studies, tried to engineer an optimal system where the employees best served the machinery around them. “It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone,” he wrote in his book, The Principles of Scientific Management.
Taylor would have been ecstatic to have the kinds of HR tools available now. He would have pounced on a book like The Brave New World of eHR: Human Resources Management in the Digital Age. “Electronic human resources,” says the book, is “a new world order for managing human resources in organizations—a world where scientists and practitioners in the industrial/organizational psychology field have much to say and much to offer in order to promote the effectiveness and optimization of eHR technologies and services.”
It describes a world in which people are “e-recruited,” “e-selected,” “e-compensated,” e-trained, and e-managed, and where they don’t need to—maybe could not if they wanted to—talk to a real person for support. “Welcome to the new world of eHR,” says the book. “Things will look a bit different here. No longer will you deal with an HR professional to handle your HR needs. The HR portal will take care of you. Need to change your address? How about some online training? Want to check on your latest performance review? The portal is here to help.”
Too many corporations have become people-chewing machines, places where you are more likely to get an access code by which a computer gets to know you and spits out your top “themes” than you are to get a manager to take you to coffee every month and work with you individually, person to person.
When people apply for a job now, they force-fit their unique selves into electronic boxes hoping not to run afoul of the secret algorithm that, because of the increased applications e-applying allows, must sift through hundreds or thousands of submissions.
No wonder one HR executive who had applied anonymously through his own company’s e-selection system got rejected, or the e-selection system of another took in 25,000 applications for a standard engineering position and reported back that not one person was qualified.
“Job applicants have been changed into these bits-and-bytes kind of package for a software program that screens them as they apply for a job,” reported Mitchell Hartman on the radio program Marketplace Money. “These systems are persnickety. They’re software; they’re not human-ware.”
From Widgets by Rodd Wagner, excerpted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. Copyright 2015.
Title : Widgets. The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People
By : Rodd Wagner
Published by : McGraw- Hill
Year of publication : 2015
Details : Hardcover 256 pages USD32; also available as an eBook
Available at : Amazon and at the Widgets website.
Rodd Wagner is the New York Times bestselling author of the book “Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People,” to be released in April 2015. He is one of the foremost authorities on employee engagement and collaboration. Wagner’s books, speeches, and research focus on how human nature affects business strategy. He currently serves as vice president of employee engagement strategy at BI Worldwide. Wagner is a confidential advisor to senior executives on the best ways to increase their personal effectiveness and their organizations’ performance. His work has taken him around the world, to the executive suites of major corporations in nearly every industry, to the Pentagon, and to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. Wagner’s books have been published in 10 languages and his work featured in The Wall Street Journal, ABC News Now, BusinessWeek.com, CNBC.com, and the National Post of Canada, and parodied in Dilbert.
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