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Masooma Memon

Humanizing Resource Management in 2024

Resource management isn't just about scheduling people to projects! Humanize your resource management practice by focusing on these key factors.

Resource management is mostly about scheduling people on projects.

Or is it?

Sure, allocating work to people is a big part of human resource management - but it’s not the only one. 

Developing and elevating professionals in a way that helps you achieve business value is the other aspect of resource management. Unfortunately, these longer-term, strategic intentions are often put on the backburner in the day-to-day.

But resource management has the power to turn employees' hours into meaningful growth opportunities that make them excited about their work.

In fact, leaders who take the people aspect of resource management further and offer career development tend to be higher performing than those focused on resource allocation alone.

So where do you start? What can you do today to better manage the ‘people’ aspect of resource management?

You start with humanizing resource management. Here’s how you can do so according to seven experts in the field: 

  1. Put relationships at the heart of what you do
  2. Focus on roles, not jobs
  3. Help individuals thrive and grow
  4. Move from top-down to bottom-up decision making
  5. Make space for creativity
  6. Communicate in a way that centers safety
  7. Humanize the metrics

1. Put relationships at the heart of what you do

Start with building strong relationships with:

  • The leadership
  • The people you manage
In terms of securing leadership buy-in, I would say absolutely the first step would be to build trust and really work on cultivating the relationship, advises Christine Robinson, consultant and former Resource Management Director at Baker Tilly US.

Doing so also makes sure resource management isn’t siloed and your function gets a seat at the table. It guarantees that your work will contribute to meaningful business outcomes.

For this reason, Christine also recommends really trying to understand what the business leaders care about the most, and what outcomes are meaningful to them.

Start with understanding how the organization plans to evolve and what the organizational goals are, Christine suggests.

With the information you collate, align your goals with the wider business objectives to drive positive impact.

At the same time, establish personal connections with the people you manage.

Take the time to “really understand how they are motivated and what they aspire to [become] — that’s going to be the key to success across the board.”

One way to effectively learn their motivations, passions, and interests, is to “truly listen.”

Christine elaborates:

Develop a keen and acute understanding of the pulse is of the organization, what is driving people right now, what are they looking for.

2. Focus on roles, not jobs

This can be easier said than done, but coach and consultant Ed Frauenheim shares three practical tips for encouraging transparent resource allocation and carving out work people enjoy:

Create profiles to understand workers’ passions

The relationships that you build with people can help you fill these profiles. 

Find out “what makes them light up? What do they really want to do?” shares Ed. 

You can also use Runn to create a skills and interests inventory:

Then reference these profiles or inventory to connect people to their passions (read: projects they’d be interested in doing).

And remember, this isn’t about professional skills and interests alone. It’s about people’s personal passions, notes Ed:

Sometimes those [personal passions] can be avenues of innovation or creativity or just helping people love your organization.

Break traditional roles down into specific skills

Get granular in the way you approach resource management by letting go of traditional job descriptions.

These bundle all the skills needed in one list of requirements. But the hard truth is: you’ll never find people meeting all these requirements — they’d likely have 2-5 of those skills, but never all.

That’s why Ed recommends breaking the work down into specific requirements for specific roles. This lets you manage talent based on skills and passions (roles), rather than broad jobs.

➡️ Continue reading: Understanding Role Design - A Step-by-Step Guide

Invite team members to show interest in new roles and projects

Ed calls this “bottom-up resource management” where you post jobs and invite team members to apply for them.

This approach creates a more transparent resource allocation process. That is: instead of resource managers deciding where to put people, they guide new hires and long-standing employees to make their choice.

In other words, you can find out who’s really fired up about filling the job gaps.

Here's how we allocate people to projects at Runn based on their interests and professional development goals.

3. Help individuals thrive and grow

Edwin Jansen, the Chief Steward and CEO of Fuse Cooperative, points out that managers are not always best positioned to direct employee development.

Who knows best what their own greatest work could be? The individual knows, the manager does not know and could never know.

The only catch here? Workers may need some guidance in understanding their passions, talents, and competencies.

Thankfully, the role advising framework is a great help for resource managers to this end.

It’s divided into three overlapping steps that encourage employees to identify their passions.

Step 1: Ask people to answer the following (self-assessment):

  • What are you good at? What are your skills, experiences, and similar?
  • What are you passionate about? What do you want to learn?
  • What kind of difference do you want to make? What do you want to work on?

Step 2: Ask individuals to share their self-assessment with their advisors

This way, project managers or advisors who have been tracking employee performance can help people refine their answers. 

Step 3: Create a proposal to send out to advisors

Lastly, document everything so there’s one profile sharing an individual’s passions, what they want to do, what they want to learn, etc.

This makes it easy for resource managers to help people identify development and career opportunities. 

By making these profiles visible, you can also easily match resources’ passions and interests with business needs.

4. Move from top-down to bottom-up decision-making

Instead of limiting decision-making to the C-suite, involving employees in making decisions is an efficient way to not only create a humanized workplace but also tap into an organization’s collective wisdom.

Let folks right on the ground — the frontlines — have a say and make suggestions based on what they’re seeing out there from our customers, notes Ed.

Edwin adds:

The principle is that collective intelligence is always smarter than an individual’s intelligence, provided that every individual is heard in the collective decision-making process.

In fact, this type of collective decision-making makes companies 5.5 times more successful than organizations that don’t leverage their collective wisdom.

An effective way to get started with generative decision-making is to encourage individuals to come up with initial proposals and refine the proposal using a consensus and objections method.

The idea is that one person comes with an initial proposal, and then the team generates [it further] by adding advice to create a better proposal and one that is collectively adopted and then consented to, Edwin explains.

As a proposal comes in, begin by asking clarifying questions.

Understand what’s being proposed. What’s in scope, what’s not in scope. What do you mean by this exactly? Then there’s a round of advice with the intention of making that proposal better.

At this point, also welcome objections. However, every time someone shares an objection(s), they should suggest ways to overcome those objections.

Finally, by incorporating all the suggestions, the proposer comes up with a revised version.

And that proposal, version two usually goes to a vote — can we live with that? Do we agree with that?

5. Make space for creativity

Resource management has remained focused on project delivery and improving organizational efficiency.

Nicole Tiefensee, Runn’s Co-founder and COO, observes that such an approach to managing teams comes from the industrial age where the focus was more on the deliverables or output than the input.

Nicole recommends giving up on such a mechanical way to manage human capital, though. Instead, focus on employee wellbeing. Only then can you make room for creativity in the work environment.

Of course, the first step to this is again, being mindful of talent-based resource allocation. Meaning: assign work based on not just skills but also interests and passions.

Nicole elaborates:

Resource in such a way that you can harness learning opportunities and set employees up for future opportunities, future projects, [and professional growth and development].

Another practical tip here is to stop obsessing over your utilization rate. So instead of aiming for a 100% utilization rate, Tim Copeland, Founder & CEO of Runn advises being satisfied with an 80% utilization rate.

Tim explains, 

If you’re targeting, say, simply 80% planned work, and allowing enough space for just work to happen or things to be a bit more spontaneous, you allow for a lot more creativity. That is one of the things that you can do to actually build a higher quality organization. If you trust that people are going to spend their time well, you don’t really need to know every single hour what they’re going to be doing.

6. Communicate in a way that centers safety

At all times, base your communication around shared values and psychological safety.

It’s very common for many organizations to lose track of their management style and end up micromanaging resources. The problem with this? You imply you don’t trust your people to do the work you hired them to do. 

The solution then is to:

Offer clarity on the vision and project scope

Be specific about what needs to be done, then get out of employees’ way. 

This lets you empower resources to responsibly deliver high-quality output(s) — even collaborate across departments to get their work done as per the shared vision and scope. 

Pause and reflect on whether there’s enough trust in the process

With the foundation set, regularly check in with yourself to reflect on your management style and project progress.

Ask yourself: are we on track with the project’s wider vision? Or is there potentially a lack of clarity, a lack of trust, or a lack of foundation? 

Take a safety-first angle to communicating

If you find yourself micromanaging people, go ahead and open the conversation by telling them you trust them.

This should be your first step before sharing your ideas. Reference your confidence in their skills and competency, then revisit the shared vision and values. Finally, share your understanding of the matter so you can find a solution together.

Resources being managed can also use this communication tactic with their managers.

Executive performance coach, Jeff Koziatek, shares,

If you’re wanting to communicate with your lead or with your manager, whoever that is, offer the safety, then go back to the shared values, vision, and mission [to find a solution].

 Bonus tip: accept that mistakes are a natural part of a project and you shouldn’t be judging people for them.

Jeff suggests,

Take judgment away from the situation. Recognize that we are going to make mistakes, but those mistakes don’t define us, we can see the mistakes for what they are — not who we are...use a growth mindset model, and keep moving forward.

7. Humanize the metrics

Resource managers love data, but it’s important to remember that numbers are never the full picture, especially where people are involved.

Gary Ward, RMCP®, Director of Global Resource Staffing at Guidewire Software, emphasizes the importance of staying curious when it comes to your metrics. Just because the resourcing situation looks good on paper doesn’t mean that the reality on the ground is sunshine and roses for the teams being managed. 

You have to dig deeper to discover the context behind the metrics - the kind of human stories that the numbers just can’t tell you. 

Let's say you’re happy with how your numbers are looking. You know, it all looks positive. Yet you talk to someone on a team and they're not happy because they've been extended fifteen times on the same project, and now they’re bored of it - they want to see something new. Or perhaps they feel isolated where they are because they're doing too much solo work, or whatever the case may be.”

You need to think about how this ties into HR metrics - what's our employee retention rate? What's attrition looking like? And how is that trending? What about promotions - are people moving up in the organization?” 

However, though humanizing the metrics will help you develop a more impactful and empathetic resource management practice, it has to be achieved in a way that is manageable.

We can't have a conversation with each individual about every allocation or every redeployment, and we equally can't have that conversation with their manager, because there’s too many people. And the RM team is only so big!” 

So, how do you keep your pulse on the human stories behind the metrics without spreading yourself too thin? Gary recommends conducting internal surveys and running questionnaires, so that you can keep tabs on the mood of team members. Use this information to see if the team feels that the way their time is allocated works for them as individuals, as well as for the business.

With that said, Gary has a word of warning:

If you ask these questions, you will get a response! So be genuine, because it will come back to you. But I think it's important to figure out where people sit. Are they happy with the assignments they've had? Are they getting enough opportunities?”

Summing up: Your checklist for humanizing human resources

A humanized workforce is the result of the trust you put in your people and the opportunities you offer them.

Here’s all the tactical advice we’ve shared above in a checklist for you to bookmark and pursue: 

✅ Understand leadership’s business goals and strategic objectives to align your resource management goals with them.

✅ Deeply listen to the resources you manage. Unearth their interests, passions, motivations, and aspirations.

✅ Create individuals’ passion profiles or a holistic inventory that lists their skills and interests in one place.

✅ Make those passion profiles visible and provide work opportunities based on not just skills but interests and passions.

✅ Instead of traditional job advertising, break the job down into required skills and roles. Then encourage people to raise hands for projects they want to take.

✅ Use the role advising framework to guide workers in understanding what they’re good at and where they want to be in their careers to help them thrive.

✅ Promote bottom-up decision-making by asking employees to share their insights on making business decisions.

✅ Focus on 80% utilization rate so there’s room for spontaneous activities in your workflow. In turn, this encourages creativity and innovative thoughts.

✅ Always communicate with safety first. Tell your people you trust their skills before sharing your understanding or ideas to solve a difficult situation.

✅ Stay curious about your metrics - find ways to gather honest feedback from your team to see if good metrics actually equate to happy people.

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