What I learnt from Miko
I wonder who coined the phrase "Human Resource"?
It's never rested that comfortably with me. As a phrase it seems to legitimise the use of people as a disposable resource, ranking human beings alongside raw materials, products or equipment in the business machine. Further still, we hear companies talking about "Our People" as if there is some kind of ownership involved. Like many other terms, we have simply accepted these, without truly considering the real implications of the language we are using.
A connection of mine - Kate Griffiths Lambert - has written a really interesting blog about the perception of HR in organisations.
Like Kate, I do worry that HR, in some organisations, is becoming more focused on protection and legislation as opposed to inspiration and development. The mechanics of the role seem to be taking priority over the creative intuition and business-aligned focus that in my view, marks out the best HR practitioners. One of the most worrying trends I am seeing in people development is the emergence of procurement as the selector of providers for leadership development initiatives. With procurement as the selector, price unashamedly becomes the main decision-making criteria and personality, culture, flair and approach have to take a back seat. We often find ourselves struggling to develop an informed dialogue with HR about what is really needed and have to answer instead to the bean counters, whose focus is short term and always bottom line oriented.
If people are at the heart of an organisation and if people truly create an organisation's differential in a crowded market place, then surely they deserve to be inspired and developed as people with individual personalities and individual needs, not robots who can be fitted into a one size fits all, sheep dip approach to training.
I've been fortunate in my career to have met some truly inspirational human resource directors.
One of them, Miko Weidemanis, first became a client of ours in the late 80s and over the years our relationship grew into a close friendship. Miko is a Latvian who grew up in post war Sweden. He originally trained as a doctor, but his passion was always for developing people and he soon abandoned a career in medicine to focus on HR. His first major role was with the Nobel Company, helping to grow their international business, travelling around the world to find and develop people for their talent pipeline. He later became HR Director of Swedish-based cement company, Euroc, which then became Scancem and was later taken over by Heidelberg Cement.
Miko, who is a larger than life character, loved his job and was passionate about all of the people employed in the organisation. He firmly believed that his key role was to identify emerging talent and develop people through the organisation almost as a vocation. He once said to me "The HR Director is the most important person in any business, because it is he or she who hires and fires the CEO!"
He saw his responsibilities as developing talent, creating a culture where people can learn and grow, and always recognising the importance of succession planning at all levels in the business.
Miko believed in people and their potential. He created forward thinking, modular leadership and management development programmes that were delivered globally. They were designed to create cultural awareness, leadership capacity, emotional intelligence and to help the participants to become the best version of themselves that they could be.
He chose all of the suppliers himself and played a contributing role on every programme we delivered.
A truly inspirational HR Director who recognised that it is people who make the difference and people who create the culture of a successful business. I was lucky to have Miko on our board as a non-executive director for over ten years after he had retired from Heidelberg. He taught me a tremendous amount about what is really important in HR and how to prioritise people development as a core business activity.
Miko is now enjoying a well-earned retirement in France where he is helping to develop his many grandchildren, but I will always remember him fondly as the person who showed me what a great HR Director could be. He understood the importance of capturing hearts and minds, inspiring people to develop and grow. He wasn't interested in Humans as Resources, he was focused on "Human Potential".
David Williams is Impact's Founder and CEO.