You can’t treat people in the same way as you would products, says Lord Kirkham

Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, is a truly remarkable individual who will be 90 years old next year and has seen more of this world than virtually anyone else alive.

He has also had the opportunity to meet a who’s who of human dynamos, movers and shakers, potentates and pop stars, icons of all ages, genders and persuasions - and no doubt a fair sprinkling of idiots, too.

I have seen it reported that when he hears the term HR - human resources - he becomes a mite irritated and responds: “People - do you mean people? If you do, then why don’t you say so?” I understand entirely where he is coming from - and I don’t mean Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle or Corfu.

The word ‘resources’ makes no distinction between people and stock kept on shelves or pallets in warehouses, to be moved around at the click of a mouse.

At least the old term personnel department implied part of a management structure. But people support department really hits the spot and I suspect would find no argument from the Queen’s husband.

It’s no coincidence that those words are used by successful retail business Timpson, an organisation built on the sustained, positive drive of its staff.

Once we start talking about people rather than resources, maybe we will think of staff as human beings rather than computerised reference numbers on the payroll system, or pawns to be shunted around like barcoded SKUs.

By the way, neither age nor the coalition Government is making me a cuddly lefty wimp. A lifetime in business has taught me that treating people with consideration is key in creating better, sustainable performance. Not to mince words I mean profit, our raison d’être. Cash in the till, both literally and metaphorically.

Business today is full of buzzwords and jargon borrowed from other disciplines with the aim of making us sound good, and dressing up simple information in a way designed either to impress or to baffle and deceive.

Not for me is the repetitive use of the words robust or transparent, the term blue sky thinking or the abbreviation KPI. These I leave to the vocabulary of consultants, a profession I have steered clear of for more than 40 years without any perceptible detriment.

Regrettably their services do become indispensable on the sale of a business, when it is the custom for potential buyers to enjoy the safety net of some apparently expert third-party that can share in the blame in the event that the wheels fall off.

My brief unavoidable exposure to consultants, however, confirmed my long-standing suspicion that they are pretty expert in at least two things: producing jargon-packed and heavily qualified multi-page reports stating the obvious, and drawing up humongous world-class invoices.

Prince Philip has said that he does not want a big fuss to be made of his 90th birthday, but wouldn’t it be a nice gesture if in his honour we all clubbed together and agreed to sack meaningless jargon forever and started by banishing the term human resources. Call people people. And as for a spade…

Lord Kirkham is the founder of DFS