April 7, 2011 by Neil
Nothing says “past it” than a term that I came across yesterday for the first time in a long while. Human Capital Management. The words in themselves are enough to make my stomach turn. I know that linguistically it isn’t a million miles away from Human Resource Management, but the latter is a broad church, where as HCM has connotations that I find really quite disturbing.
Whereas the origins of the term date back to economic theory, it has been hijacked by the over willing, over eager consultants as a means of trying to squeeze metrics and measurement into everything. Thus driving “economic value” of the “human capital”. I’m not against measurement per se, but I do think we are on a hiding to nothing with it.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”
True, but also not so.
Because in the end, we are dealing with people, not buttons or levers and therefore we have to understand that much of our measurement will be qualitative. The example given yesterday was recruitment. I know quite a bit about recruitment metrics, I wrestled with them for years. Measure time to fill? Ok that tells you something….but what do you really want to know? My guess is the questions are more,
- Are we easily attracting the right people?
- If not why not?
Does time to fill answer that? No,but it is harder to measure what we want to know and therefore we measure the process, because that is easier and as HR people we are happier in the process than in nebulous concepts.
The other piece that rankles with the whole issue of HCM is the view that labour costs are just that….costs. As I said yesterday in the conversation, flip it around and it becomes investment. As you could buy a very cheap computer system or a very expensive one, you can also have cheap or expensive labour. Without knowing the effectiveness or the performance of both, you know nothing (and measuring that is almost impossible). If the cheaper computer system is causing employees to be less productive or is crashing then the actually cost of it could be higher.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, humans are wonderfully unique and unpredictable. We should be embracing that and looking at a more humanistic approach to managing and understanding them, not trying to convert them into something they are nor – measurable assets.
For me that’s why HCM deserves to be confined to the garbage can of failed approaches to people management…if there is still any room left in there.