Evolution of Human Resources management towards a positive and influential construct

By Sandeep Kulshrestha

We have come a long way in terms of how the human resources function resonates with issues like employee well-being and happiness. From a deeply administrative time-office in a factory in the early twentieth century, we now have come to a stage where we have happiness champions in corporations. Let me share my perspective on how holistically we have evolved as humans and how that is reflected on our present day worldview, in terms of managing people. This article also uses some symbolisms so that we understand Human Resources management in the context of our evolution as a species and the impact of different revolutions in the business world that resulted in the paradigm shift in the life around us

The early brainy humans - the hunter and gatherers

Hunter gatherers were pre-historic humans whose life was around sustenance and they hunted for whatever they could get locally, either animals or plants, so that their basic need, of food was fulfilled.  The need of food, shelter and sustenance is still a basic need in 21st century as well. These people lived in small groups and shared resources. They were not having a full time work but the sense of belonging towards a group would have been there so that they could avoid getting attacked by animals or other groups of humans. We can learn the bits about competition and rivalry through this idea. This was the first stage of human development when the human beings knew how to survive with what was available around them. Sometimes in talent acquisition we opt for the readily available talent, within the organization or through some local references. There is substantial archeological evidence which says that hunter gatherers were present around 1.8 million years ago as well. In certain places like Andamans in India and various parts of Africa, hunter gatherers still exist.

The Agricultural revolution

Agricultural revolution happened around 10000 BC and this gave human beings a power to produce their own food. This was one of the first human endeavor where human beings got together to farm and produce for themselves and others. For an incredibly long time human beings hunted as foragers but agriculture gave them a way to earn, so they got into an occupation. In the middle ages, between 1000 AD and till 1800's, agriculture became a professional activity where the big income farmers started employing people (many a times slaves) to work in the farms. Although the working conditions were tough, the concept of employee engagement was first seen in such farmlands where the workers were also provided food, clothing and shelter. This is of course not the perfect example as I reiterate that the working conditions were very tough and the farm labour was subject to abuse and the working hours were way too longer. However, for understanding Human Resource management, we need to look at the historical context as well. This was the first era where people started looking at human beings as a resource (like the farm labourers)

First and second Industrial Revolutions

The Industrial revolution is the pre-curser to the current state of business we are in. There were two industrial revolutions which happened. The first one happened around 1760 AD with the advent of steam power and it all started in Great Britain. Britain became a big industrial hub in 18th century and the steam power led to creation of factories. For the first time the humans had another way to look at an occupation - working for a factory. The second Industrial revolution happened around mid 19th century when electricity was discovered and it led to more growth of the factories. So much so, Britain wanted raw materials for their factories, hence the officials of companies like the East India Company were sent to different locations, to colonize different nations and get the raw material including spices and yarn. The factories also were not implementing any best practices till the early 20th century when management experts like F. W. Taylor began their foray into bringing scientific management principles to the workplaces. Initially, the department that used to manage people was called "time-office" for the simple reason that this department used to punch in and out time for the employees so that their wages can be paid and attendance can be marked. Slowly, this used to be known as the "personnel" department. 

Third Industrial revolution

The third Industrial revolution started in early 1970s where the technological advances started taking shape. By mid 1970s there were many companies in this space, like IBM, Microsoft and Apple. This led to further professionalism in management of human resources. The term "Human Resources Management" was initially used in this era and gradually, companies started creating better work practices to make sure that the talented people add value to the work and are able to work long years in a job. The term "Human Resources development" was also created during this era, focusing on the training and development of people.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

Fourth Industrial revolution is happening since a decade and a half now and we are in the midst of it. The companies are more driven by knowledge and intellect and are doing their bit to build professional human resource teams. Newer job titles like "Talent acquisition manager", "Chief Happiness officer" etc. are in vogue now and companies like Google, Microsoft and other tech companies are known for their best practices especially around hiring, employee engagement and reward systems. There is a philosophy within companies that the best of talent should be hired and retained and this has made the job of Human Resources professionals very interesting.

Human Resources management has become a potent and positive force in the contemporary world. The growth of HR has led to growth of other related fields like Organizational Development (OD).  Tools like Appreciative Inquiry, Emotional Intelligence and Positive Psychology are able to equip the HR functionaries to create a positive impact on the people and teams within an organization. There is an increased focus on employee well-being in professionally run companies. 

From the era of hunter gatherers, where our ancestors had to struggle to survive, we have reached an stage where we are entrepreneurial, innovative and creative and we have the know-how, passion and intention to bring positive change. In this context, the role of HR department in any company is to be a channel for positive impact. The last 20 years or so have been very interesting for Human Resources managers. Increasingly, companies are driven to build good work practices, trust their people and build good work culture. 

The field of Human Resources management, like any other business fields have evolved a great deal and the future is bright for people who are creative and are interested in creating a lasting, positive impact.