Human Racehorses

I was at a professional event last month where I swear I heard one of the panelists describe herself as an executive in human racehorses.

It was some quirk of regional accent, I’m sure, but how perfect is that perceived malaprop?  One of the hallmarks of the evolution from “personnel” back in the day to “human resources” (and then, for others, on to “human capital” or just “people”) was a movement away from placating and monitoring and toward increased productivity and professional development.  Along the way, things definitely got strident and sweaty.

I can’t resist.  Here are some tips I found online for how to train racehorses.

  • “Train them for races by daily jogging.  Increase the speed and distance as the horse becomes conditioned and starts to improve its fitness level” . . . keep moving the cheese.
  • “The horse must be able to meet or exceed the minimum speed prescribed by the track the owner wishes it to compete at” . . . because racehorses have “owners.”
  • “Have the horse practice running the track with other horses to increase speed through the internal competitive nature to be first” . . . pitting them against everyone else as a measure of success.

Communications that support those types of HR values will fall into patterns of top-down, comply-or-else, propagandistic cheering and saluting.  These are delivered with strong assumptions that employees have all the time and interest in the world to be fascinated by professional development and performance management and team dynamics and recruiting and onboarding and benefits management and cross-functional teaming.

But, really?  Have you taken a tour lately through the brain of today’s worker?  It’s a landscape of various elevations of anxiety.  Most people are uncertain their jobs are going to exist in a three-to-five year window of time, and they are unengaged because they cannot imagine how anything they could do on the job could increase their chance of remaining employed.  Turns out they’re not really behaving like racehorses.

There’s a New Employment Deal out there.  It’s more crowd-sourced than hierarchical, it’s got more realism and less loyalty, and it’s smart about what workers today really want and need.  Frankly, it’s fairer and much more adult (less equine).  Communicating in that new-deal environment is different in important ways: notably in content, style and channel.

Do your employees believe you’re part of the New Employment Deal?  Do you know how to communicate differently in the new business landscape?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /


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