What’s in a name?


What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I read an article this week. You may have seen it. It suggested that HR was kind of pointless in many organisations. It doesn’t add any value. You know the type of article. They come around, fairly often.

There was one thing however in the article said that I did agree with. It criticised the name ‘human resources’. Said that we need to change it, that it suggests all the wrong things. I will admit too, that I’ve never liked it. I don’t like it because of the implication that it has, to me, that resources are all that people are. Factors of production. Inputs, outputs, objects, materials, property. It doesn’t feel like it shows who we are, what we do, where we play.

Once upon a time we were the welfare department. Next we were personnel. Then we were renamed, rebranded. We were Human Resources. Each name has its own connotations, undertones, associations. Human Resources was just that bit more serious, business like, a little less fluffy. It might even sound, strategic.

Lately I’ve seen alternatives to HR. People Departments with Chief People Officers. That just sounds like new wine in old bottles to me.


Here’s the thing. It’s not what you call yourself, it’s what you do that matters. What you deliver, influence, change. Who you are and what you stand for.

I once worked for a man that advocated removing job titles. Allowing employees to call themselves anything they wanted. I often said that I was therefore going to call myself the Chief High Poobah of HR. It’s got a good sound to it, don’t you think? But even if I did, I’d be doing the same things today, tomorrow. Just trying to do good people stuff, with professionalism and integrity.

I’d have some awesome business cards though.

7 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. In a former role, I always laughed when telling people I was “Head of Talent” – made it sound like there was a queue. I wish we could come up with a neat word that genuinely describes what HR does – I think part of the problem is the breadth of areas that HR covers – Reward, Development, Employer Branding, Workforce Planning, the list goes on… Almost all organisational departments have a single word moniker – I wonder whether “Performance” or “Effectiveness” could prove to be suitable worlds (like “Finance” and “Marketing” both summarise what we focus on)

  2. Great article, however, and maybe I am alone in thinking this way, I feel the title ‘Human Resources’ does encompass what HR does, i.e. dealing with people issues, recognising their value in the organisational structure and working towards maximising their output through training, learning and development, performance and reward, etc. all the various sub sections contained within HR. Doing so, also helps to distinguish human input from all other business related resources, in order to tailor make services specifically directed at people, as mentioned above.

    I do agree with you though, that yes, being hung up on the title serves as a distraction, rather, action should speak louder than words, or in this case, the title.

  3. I remember joining one organisation as HR Manager and when sorting my business cards no job title. The CEO’s view was that we all represented the company whatever we did so job title wasn’t important. People knew what I did because I did it, and vice versa. It worked.

    I think that giving the “people” title to one function signals something about ownership that gets in the way. There’s the employee operational stuff, and there’s organisational development. Depending on the size of the org they are both done by one person or a small team, or in larger organisations may co-exist but be quite separate.

  4. Loved the article HRGem and couldn’t agree more. People don’t form an opinion on an entire profession based on a name (or what gets said in industry magazines, conferences or blogs) but of their experiences of dealing with it. (see my blog post in a similar vein here: http://bit.ly/1cGk4Mq.)

    One issue that HR has in terms of its reputation is that much of its good work is hidden from the rest of the organisation. How many people know that you’ve managed to built a talent pipeline that’s reduced time to hire by 50% and saved the company mega bucks in lost productivity? Not many I bet. How many people got annoyed by the last employee survey sent round the whole organisation? I’d venture it’s more than a few.

  5. “Here’s the thing. It’s not what you call yourself, it’s what you do that matters. What you deliver, influence, change. Who you are and what you stand for. ”

    Drops the mike and walks off stage.

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