Human Capital vs. the Human Being...
I had an interesting conversation a while back with some area business leaders that I felt worth sharing. We were looking at a case study where a CEO discussed the idea of identifying what they called: Human Capital. This to me is an interesting idea that I take issue with a little bit. So, I started what ended up being a half an hour conversation on the idea of what human capital actually refers to and how it relates to the idea of the human being or what I referred to in an earlier blog as “The Human Element.”
The concern I had was this, is the idea of human capital a bit degrading to the employee? What does it actually refer to? Is it something that actually contributes to the idea of value added employees or is it a financial term used to classify employees as assets instead of expenses on the balance sheet? Either way, it seems a bit cold. I think the reason it seems so cold is because many employees, when they don’t understand the heart or motives of the executive level of leadership tend to automatically get a bit cynical. Have you ever heard phrases from your boss similar to; “Good sale! You just paid for your salary this month” or “We appreciate you being here today. We want to make this time valuable because there is a lot of payroll in this room.”
How do these things make you feel as an employee? These statements are probably harmless and not meant to be disheartening at all, but are they the right way to address people you consider valuable in your organization? I think the term human capital falls into that same category. I think a lot of people mean it in a positive way but it can come across wrong because it’s an ambiguous term. What are the actual motives of the organization? Do they value human capital because they want to advance the bigger picture of the company or because they actually value their employees?
GRAPE held a panel discussion last year that focused on the idea of keeping and bringing human capital to Grand Rapids and West Michigan. @robertstam, an author and entrepreneur in West Michigan, was on the panel. Although he was a bit of a black sheep that day, he had one of the most poignant statements of the discussion: “Maybe we should stop worrying about Human Capital and start worrying about the Human Being.”
So the question is: how do you do that? I don’t think the term human capital is offensive by any means; I just think it’s impersonal. I don’t have the answer to this discussion but I think it’s a thought worth exploring. I’m curious what you think. Would you feel devalued as an employee if the term was used to describe you and your team? Would you question the motives of your superiors?
Let’s keep the discussion going. This is, in reality, your discussion and your battle as future business leaders. Do me a favor, engage…what are your thoughts?