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Are People Resources? – Why Do We Call Employees Resources?

Published by Karoline Holicky

November 1st, 2021

in Resource Management

When I was new to the world of project portfolio management or PPM, I started hearing the term “resource management.” At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what the word “resource” meant. Of course, I was familiar with referring to natural resources, financial resources, material resources and human resources, but what exactly did it mean to call people resources? The short answer is that the word “resource” can also refer to employees or people. At Meisterplan, we offer a resource-based solution for project portfolio management and capacity planning. Our pricing is determined not by the number of users, but the number of resources used in the tool. We define a resource as: “Every individual person or material resource that you plan for in Meisterplan.”  As you can see, you can plan for both material resources or employees in Meisterplan, but most of the time, the resources that our customers manage in Meisterplan are human resources or employees.

Why Are People Called Resources?

The reason that employees are referred to as resources is that it is easier to make sense of a complex situation when you bring it down to abstract terms. If you are managing 30+ projects, you may have five project teams with five to ten people on each team. For planning purposes, it makes sense to think of those people as resources with specific skills. This is especially the case when changes arise: a new top priority, a key employee goes on leave, extreme weather delays a project, etc. When these things happen, you often must find resources or employees with specific skills to fill in the gaps. You have to manage your resources.

In multi-project planning, simplifying the planning process by using the word “resource” can help organizations make better decisions because they can see the big picture clearly. But this is not the only reason the word resource is used to refer to people. In truth, employees are a company’s greatest resource. More than just material things or money, people are the ones who get things done in an organization. They know how the organization and especially how their specific team works best. They know what methodologies and tools help them get their projects completed quickly and effectively. Additionally, they also often work with customers which means they can give insight into what the customer is thinking and what the customer needs. This is more than money or things could ever provide. As an organization’s most valuable resource, people can anticipate problems, suggest ways to make the organization better and actually deliver to the customer.

Is It Wrong to Call People Resources?

Many people are offended by calling people resources. I can understand that. I sometimes even cringe when I read an article about resource management that never explicitly indicates that when they say resources they mean people. So, is it wrong to refer to people as resources? 

It’s important to understand that there are acceptable uses of the word “resource” and there are steps you can take to ensure that everyone in an organization feels valued and appreciated. Referring to people as resources is commonly used in recruiting and Human Resources (even the department name includes the term) as well as in academic studies when learning about people in organizations or corporations.

Is it wrong to call people resources?

It is not appropriate to refer to a person as a resource to their face. The term should be used for simplifying complex issues and planning, not for more personal settings. If you are managing a team of people, get to know each team member personally. Go to lunch with them and spend time outside of the normal business setting to understand the person better, what makes them tick, and what they value. Let them know how important they are to the team. When your team knows how much you value them, it will make it easier for them to understand the very specific way the word resource is used for reducing complexity.

However, in large organizations, it is impossible to get to know everyone. But, if you are a portfolio manager or just someone who doesn’t work with teams on a daily basis, you can still make an effort to get to know some people. This will make your employees feel that they are truly valued and that you see each of them as a person, even if you can’t meet them all personally. On top of that, getting to know as many people as you can will make your job easier. When you are managing your resources (employees), you probably have a list of their skills in the resource management tool you are using. If you get to know those people personally, you may learn additional skills that they have that weren’t necessarily listed on their resume, but that make them a perfect fit for a specific project.

People as Valuable Resources

Calling people resources is probably not going to stop anytime soon. We hope this article helps you to think of it as a good thing instead of being offended by it. We also hope that it reminds management to take a personal interest in their employees. Think abstractly when it makes sense, but treat your employees like the valuable humans they are.

If you’re curious about how Meisterplan lets you manage resources, you can start a free 30 day trial. If you’d like to learn more about resource management, visit our blog.

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