Steve Fenton

World No Resources Day

Today (1st May) is World No Resources Day, a day intended to promote humanity in the workplace.

On the official World No Resources Day website, the message is simple:

“…please be careful not to use the word “resource” at work when referring to people. If you catch someone else doing this, please call them out.” – WorldNoResourcesDay (Neil Killick)

The Resource Mistake

This is a cause that is close to my heart – and I’m happy to promote this event. The term resources is a broad term that refers to a source of supply that an organisation consumes in order to obtain a benefit. For example, a company comes across a forest…

  • When viewed as a forest, we have an area that supports a vast variety of wildlife, prevents flooding, and other forms of land degradation, serves as a source of food, and provides an area of natural beauty.
  • When viewed as a resource, we have a whole bunch of wood to be harvested, followed by the selling off of the deforested land for farming.

In the long-term, does the forest provide more value as a resource, or as a forest?

It is no coincidence that the organisations that routinely refer to people as resources are the same organisations that damage people in order to gain output.

Steven Covey describes the problem of production vs production capability. Any organisation that wants to survive in the long term needs to ensure that the methods they use to drive production don’t affect their production capability. The simple example is the golden goose. If you treat the golden goose as a resource, you might get a short term burst of production by cutting it open to get any golden eggs that are to be found inside. They will be the last golden eggs you get, because you have destroyed your production capability.

This is where the term “resources” is a problem. The word itself may not be causing the problem, but it is a fantastic indicator that there is one. Organisations that routinely use this term also exhibit flawed thinking about utilisation, and seek out short term fixes that undermine long-term results. These companies force people to adopt standardised working methods, implement form-filling procedures, demand status reports… and then ask “how can we make them go faster”. They don’t even realise that their actions have caused the production capability problems.

And this is why it starts with just one word, on one day. Let’s create workplaces where humans can thrive.

Resource As A Trigger

Can we change things by getting people to substitute a word?

Although you could argue that the language we uses shapes our thinking, it is more important to treat the word “resource” as a trigger for a conversation. We don’t want people to update their glossary of terms from “resources” to “people” (or the more commonly adopted “resources – sorry; I mean people”). We want to change from humans-as-expendable-source culture to humans-as-valued-contributors culture. This means changing much more than language.

There are many techniques you can use to educate people and adjust their thinking about people and work – I have discovered a wealth of incredible information in the world of psychology. The “new management methods” gradually being adopted in business are a good 70 years behind the psychology, which has been conveniently ignored in both business and business-education for a long time. There is also systems thinking, empirical skepticism, lean thinking, and many others that you’ll discover by investigating these.

So the word “resource” is a memory-hook you can use to hang a conversation on. The conversations may eventually lead to a change in the organisation’s culture; and that in turn will lead to a change in the use of language.

Join the conversation on the #WorldNoResourcesDay hash-tag on Twitter.

Written by Steve Fenton on