Is Using the Words Resources or Assets When Talking About People the Problem?

I don’t have any problem with the words resource or assets when discussing people (I know lots of people seem to get excited about those words). What I care about is behavior and organizational systems that embody respect for people. I have never seen much correlation between those and the use of the words resource and asset for discussing the role of people in organizations. Maybe others do see the correlation between the use of those words and bad behavior.

Related: People are Our Most Important AssetMotivate or Eliminate De-MotivationRespect for People – Understanding PsychologyDon’t Treat People How You Want to be Treated

The idea that people need to be treated like people I agree with. I just think focusing on the use of words resource and asset isn’t the right focus and I don’t see the correlation to bad behavior by those using those words.

Dr. Deming’s management system had 4 interrelated components, one of which was an understanding of psychology. Deming’s management system embodies an understanding that managing human systems needs to understand that human systems are different from systems that do not have people as one of the components. Deming’s management system is excellent, and my preferred way of optimizing the management of organizations.

I do agree most people that say “people are our most important asset” don’t back that up with action that shows the organization values people. I just don’t think the problem is the use of the word asset or resource.

Response to: People Are Not Our Most Valuable Resource

3 thoughts on “Is Using the Words Resources or Assets When Talking About People the Problem?

  1. I don’t see the correlation either, John. That being said, I think part of “treating people like people” is recognizing that human beings are not completely rational actors. Feelings are facts insofar as they influence people’s behaviors within a system.

    If people react to the terms “resource” or “asset” by feeling devalued, isn’t it just more efficient to eschew these terms in favor of other terms rather than taking the time to try and correct those misimpressions?

  2. Ben, that does make sense – with the belief that you have as effective ways of communicating not using those terms and that it actually makes a difference to people. My belief is that the actions of the organization are what really matter and people latch onto other things.

    So when you are not respecting people and you call people resources they say hey we are people not resources 🙁 My belief is that if you respect people they don’t actual care about using the term resource. So if you are going run a system that does not respect people, I agree the tactic of avoiding the terms asset and resource are wise. But that tactic won’t accomplish much, then people will just latch onto something else to focus their unhappiness at a system that doesn’t respect them.

    Some people don’t even want you using the word managing – saying people are not managed they are lead… I think it is fine to avoid words that cause issues in your organization. But I don’t see value in focusing on the words as the problem. Instead, I believe if those words are a problem in your organization that is a symptom. That symptom is an indication your organization disrespects people. It isn’t a certain correlation (people can have been disrespected elsewhere and come to associate the terms with that disrespect and now hold antipathy for the use of the term even though your organization respects people). But in general, my belief is worrying about the term is a symptom, not a cause, and while it doesn’t make any sense to provoke a symptom what you really need to do is deal with the cause (or you will find some other symptom – as you remove the symptom of people reacting to the terms being used).

  3. John

    If we look back on the period from which both resources and assets, started being used, we also see the decline in respect for people. Both terms started to appear, as companies started facing more challenges, and layoffs became common. Up till the early sixty people where referred to as personnel, which as a word is drived from thw word person. While resources and assets both implied something you owned. The use came about as managers feeling guilty about letting people go, started to treat them like things instead of people.

    Can the words you use make a difference, yes if you think of your workforce in the same terms as a piece of machinery, then you will treat them that way. And since acquiring them was not very expensive, and they can’t be sold, they become very disposable, especially in the isolation of executive board rooms.

    In my younger days I knew several executives that hated the change, and they predict that labour and management relations and performance would suffer for it. If one person hates the term, then we should get rid of it, why not just go back to the term personnel it never offended anyone.


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