‘Human Capital’ Is Not Machines


Let me start by saying the main point of this post, which I will eventually get to, is: Never take on a job, contract or consultancy until you have it in writing. This should be obvious, but it is surprising how many people I have spoken to who start a project before it is all official.

So, now for the meandering.

I have already posted about the first time I was referred to as “Human Capital” by a very important CEO and couldn’t hold back and blurted out: “Are you comparing me to a machine?” Needless to say, it did not endear me to this fine gentleman.

Well, I recently had an experience, which reinforces the overwhelming perception that many executives look at people – even at some of their best talent – as nothing more than machines, unless they significantly improve the company’s bottom line.

Now, before you go off and say the purpose of any business is the bottom line: I fully understand this and agree. But that does not mean an employee should be treated like a machine – or worse, like a piece of furniture.

Again, I will slightly fudge some of the details here and not name names – it is not my way. It is not that I fear attribution, but let the guilty stew in their own brew, without me stirring their personal pots.

The following happened to me with the same company – not once, but twice. (And, yes, I know: Fool me once….)

I get a phone call early in the morning a few months ago from a CEO that I have known for several years saying she desperately needs to speak to me. She had just returned from vacation and found out that her main media coordinator had given notice, and she needed to fill the position very quickly.

The CEO wanted me to come in the same day to discuss whether I would take on the job as a consultant, or better yet full time. Explaining I had obligations we agreed on a time the next day.

She introduced me to her No 2, who sat down with me and discussed details of the job, my responsibilities and the amount of compensation. I told him that I would like to start on a contract basis and we could go on from there.

I was told I would get a phone call, probably by the time I got home from the two-hour drive, finalizing the starting date, etc.

For the sake of brevity: I sat and contemplated whether I should tell my other clients I would finish my projects, but after that I no longer would be available.

But, something told me to wait.

I waited for that phone call for hours. Finally, late in the evening, after business hours, I got an email saying they had changed their mind and were going to reorganize from within.

Obviously not pleased, I just chalked it up and decided to move on.

Then, about a week ago, I got a phone call from the same CEO, pretty much with the same pitch. I was wary, but assured this time it would be different and the man who I considered the villain in the first encounter was gone.

So, we met, I was introduced to my “team.” We started talking details and I told them I would start doing research on the position and was willing to start Monday (that’s tomorrow).

I contacted her Friday by phone and then email, saying I had begun my research but had a few questions. No Reply.

I said she could call me Saturday. And guess what the response was:

They had again changed their mind.

Back to the point:

  • Never, ever, agree to start a job, contract, consulting position or anything else until you have it in writing;
  • Always remember that there are many people out there that are looking for work – despite recent figures that show an improving economy – and you are just a considered a cog in most machines; and finally:
  • You are not a machine, but deserve to be treated with the respect you rightly deserve.

This all reminds me of a TV show I saw as a child called “The Prisoner” where the main character keeps on hearing a voice saying: “You are number 6” and his answer was: “I am not a number, I am a free man.”

Oh, and don’t EVER call me “human capital.”

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