Perhaps one of the reasons for the use of these demeaning words is agency managers do not understand the worth of their people because they cannot be measured as exactly as accountants record assets and other tangible resources.

Human capital, not human resources

Humans deserve more respect than a phone system or computer. Assets are passive, bought and sold in the marketplace at the whimsy of their owners; conversely, knowledge workers have ultimate control over their careers. Why do we insist on perpetuating this belief that people are resources to be mined rather than human capital to be developed?

A Chinese proverb teaches the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. Your people are not assets, resources, or inventory, but human capital investors seeking a decent return on their investment. In fact, your people – and especially those who are knowledge workers – are actually volunteers, since whether they return to work on any given day is completely based on their volition.

Aligning movitivations

Consider for a moment how people decide which volunteer organizations to which to contribute some of their time and talent. The choice is usually based on a desire to contribute to something larger than themselves. They work hard for these organizations – some would say harder than at their regular jobs – because they are dedicated to the purpose, and possess the passion, desire, and the dream to make a difference in the lives of others. All for zero monetary pay. Why? This is not just an economic decision, it is a psychological and emotional decision.