Human resources

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The Human Resources military-industrial complex

The instrument (the “telescreen”, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.

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If a name change is the best way to “reboot the franchise,” odds are the basics of the business are suspect. For better or worse, sales will forever be sales; trading resolutely trading, and even dear old legal will always be legal[1] — even marketing, of all people, tend to stick with “marketing” — but the good people of personnel can’t help re-branding themselves.

In the heady days before investment banking become an embarrassing career choice they were “human capital management”; as the dogma of automation began to bite they became “human resources”; as that fad, inshall’ah, blew itself out, they reinvented themselves once more as some kind “directorate of talent acquisition”. Have no doubt, the most fantastical LinkedIn job descriptions will be claimed by lifers from personnel.

Some say human resources departments are some kind of extended phenotype — an adaptation on the rest of us depend for our continued survival. The better view is that we are an extended phenotype of theirs (in the same way that wheat domesticated homo sapiens[2] and not vice versa).

And who do you think is most (for which read “only”) enthusiastic proponent of the 360° performance appraisal?

Irresistible object

Now any multinational organisation will be shot through with pointless, petty and counter-productive policies. Well all know that: the Jason Frieds, Ohno-senseis and W. Edwards Demings of the world have helpfully explained the peril, and folly, of management by policy over decades. But most policies — even those articulating matters of deep religious faith — with enough willpower, a long enough run-up and a good, low, centre of gravity, can be worked around, patched, traversed, traduced, or for practical intents and purposes undermined, for the greater good of the organisation.

This is not true of HR policies. They are utterly resistant to change.


  1. “Office of the General Counsel” notwithstanding.
  2. Insight courtesy of Yuval Harari.