Enthusiasm as a Human Resource

Every so often someone rants about the term “human resources.” A person is not a resource, they say. A person is a person. True enough.

I suppose some managers see people as resources, replaceable, fungible, interchangeable cogs in the corporate machine. My sense is that few managers who use the term “human resources” use it in that way. And still the term rankles.

I don’t often use the term myself. And when I hear it, I interpret it to mean resources that originate in people, in much the same way that natural resources refers not to nature per se as a resource, but to resources that originate in nature. The human resource is not the person, but something that the person offers to the organization.

Several years ago, Jerry Weinberg offered a nice idea for what that resource is. I don’t remember Jerry’s exact words, so I’ll paraphrase from my perhaps faulty memory: The resource is the person’s agreement with the organization. The resource is the person’s agreement to contribute to organizational ends.

I liked that idea, and I’ve kept it in mind ever since, whenever the “human resource” complaints crop up.

Today I found another idea. On Twitter, Brian Marick quoted a New York Times article by Jon Mooallem: “[Sandpoint, Idaho council member John] Reuter seemed to argue that enthusiasm is an actual asset, a resource our society is already suffering a scarcity of.”

And my synapses made a connection: Enthusiasm is the human resource. Especially in knowledge work, the primary human resource is people’s enthusiasm for the the organization’s purposes and for the work that serves those purposes.

What I like about this notion is that it is more dynamic than “human resource” or even “the person’s agreement.” A person’s enthusiasm can wax and wane. We can nurture it, squander it, squash it. We as leaders have a great deal of influence over how much enthusiasm exists in our organizations, and how much is available for the organization. And it’s not only renewable, but potentially non-diminishable: We can use people’s enthusiasm in ways that leave them even more enthusiastic than they were before. And enthusiasm is catching.

By the way, though I’m convinced that distinguishing between management and leadership is an utter waste of time, I’m gonna do it anyway: A manager deploys people’s enthusiasm toward organizational purposes. A leader (in an organization) nurtures, cultivates, grows, invites, coaxes, inspires people’s enthusiasm for organizational purposes.

(Yes, I know that enthusiasm is only one thing people offer their organizations, so the human resource doesn’t tell the whole story. Of course skills and knowledge matter, too, and a host of other things. But today I’m enthusiastic about enthusiasm, so I’m taking a little blogistic license.)

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