Beyond the Human Resource Function: What Lies Ahead?

An increasingly common theme in Human Resource (HR) literature in the 1990’s concerns how the HR Department can make a greater contribution to the success of the business it serves. To do so, we must first change our view of the Human Resource role as being only executable within a traditional “Department.” We must view HR more as a “function,” or “a set of activities,” than as a department. While HR services may not be delivered in the future via what we know as a Department, they must be delivered in some way. This article is about the realm of possibilities.

The HR Function Today

Today the HR Department is in a transitional phase. Some organizations have long ago realized that the HR Department can make a greater difference. Others need convincing. A positive trend seems to be developing, as evidenced in publications of the Human Resource professional’s accrediting organization, the Society for Human Resource Management, (e.g. see HR Magazine, 11/98). Chief Executive Officers are increasingly viewing the HR function as an actual or potential “strategic business partner.” This is encouraging, for as recently as the early 1990’s the notion of the HR function as a strategic partner would have been quite novel.

To understand where the HR function is going, it is helpful to briefly review its past.

WHERE HR CAME FROM

In the first half of the 20th century, the Human Resource function grew out of the Payroll function. The remnants of this can be seen in companies that retain the responsibility for payroll processing within the HR Department. Today, the payroll function can often be found in the Controller’s functional area.

This new entity then became known as the “Personnel Department.” It was responsible for those duties that, quite frankly, didn’t seem to fit anywhere else, such as overseeing the employment process. Unlike later iterations, the Personnel Department was not concerned with strategic recruiting and selection. Its goal was simply to hire people to fill “jobs,” a 20th century creation. This emphasis explains how, even today, many people think of the Personnel Department as simply “the Department that hires people.” So engrained is this idea that, even in surveys of HR practitioners that we conduct today, many of them still define the main purpose of the HR Department as being “the employment of people.” Of course, it is true that in many of their companies, hiring people still is their main focus and purpose.

Since its inception, the HR Department has gone through a number of transformations, as depicted in Figure 1. During the 1970’s and 1980’s as it sought a new identity. These changes attempted to reposition the function as the guardian of employee relations and a provider of services.

The Evolution of the Human Resource Department:

– Payroll
– Payroll/Personnel Department
– Personnel Department
– Employee Services Department
– Human Relations Department
– Employee and/or Labor Relations Department
– Personnel Relations Department
– Human Resource Department
– Human Assets Department
– Human Capital Department
– Human Systems Department

In terms of the evolution of Management, this change had its origins in the “Human Relations” and “Human Resource” Movements of prior decades. The core notion of these movements was that organizations should proactively establish closer links with its employees to create the perception of, if not an actual concern for, employees, because of the employees’ potential to disrupt organizations when “relations” became unstable.

This era was also the beginning of the “employee involvement” movement and strategy. Employees became more increasingly engaged in decisionmaking that affected them. Progressive companies increasingly realized that employees who did the work, knew the work best. To gain greater acceptance of change, it was best to involve employees whose lives would be affected by the change. Human Resource professionals became “Employee Relations Counselors” and had the responsibility of bridging, establishing and maintaining a stable relationship between the employer and its employees.

Eventually, the notions of the HR function as the Personnel Department and the Employee Relations Department gave way to a new notion: the idea of employees as organizational “resources” to be valued. Thus was born the “Human Resource Department.”

Structurally, the Department did not change very much. The various sub-functions of Employment, Compensation, Training, and others remained. But the connotation of employees as “resources” permitted the HR Department to be viewed as something more than just a hiring function or as a mere provider of counseling and other services to employees. It suggested that the HR function recognized that humans as resources could be valued, served, recognized and “invested in,” in ways which could increase their value to the company.

It was the start of what would later emerge as “Human Capital” theory. This theory holds that, through training and education, an investment in people will provide a “return” to the company in the form of greater innovation and/or productivity. We see this final transition represented in Figure 1 by several newly conceptualized titles, including “Human Systems” and “Human Assets” Departments. Human Systems, for example, refers to the potential involvement of the HR practitioner in any human system within the company, be it a pay system, a sociotechnical system, a team-based systems or others requiring the internal consultation of the HR professional. Their contribution is tied more closely to the strategic nature of the business and the impact can therefore be even greater than that which was possible within the traditional HR Department.

WHERE IS HR TODAY?

Where is the HR function today? In an increasing number of companies, HR services are being delivered in new ways. In others, the HR Department resembles the same function and structure used in the 1960’s.

Fortunately, we are seeing long overdue change. The change is prompted by how organizations of the 1990’s need to be or demand to be serviced. For some, this means being a full-fledged strategic partner in the business. For others, it simply means being utilized as something more than a mere hiring or administrative function.

Change is also affecting the name of the emerging HR function. As depicted in Figure 1, the HR function in some companies is becoming the “Human Capital,” “Human Systems” or “Human Asset” Department. These names suggest the need to invest in human capital or human assets, as well as to evaluate how people are integrated in various organizational systems. Being new, these names may be better thought of as part of HR’s future.

The Effect of Cross-Functionalization

Specifically, how are HR services being delivered today? Certainly, functional structures are still in use, with their traditionally separate specialty areas such as Employment, Compensation, Training, and others. However, as “team-based,” “lateral,” “cross-functional,” or “matrix” organizations (choose a name) proliferate, the HR function has adapted. It is increasingly common to see a cross-functional HR representative assigned to other functional areas to provide general, ongoing HR services to that area, team, or group.

A more radical approach for the delivery of HR services is one in which it is understood that the HR representative is more strongly aligned with the assigned functional area than to the traditional HR Department. The difference is one of emphasis. While this is happening now, this structure could be considered more of a model for the future.

Unfortunately, this structure sometimes creates a split allegiance for the HR professional. Internal conflict increases under this model both within and across the HR functional representatives because the HR representative can become more emotionally tied to the assigned function than to the central HR function.

The Trend Toward Generalists

The trend toward the use of more HR generalists and fewer specialists also continues. This is an outgrowth of downsized organizations and the “do more with less” philosophy of the 1990’s. Thus, the makeup of HR Departments reflects this demand, increasing the use of generalists who can “do it all.” Some companies complement this approach with specialists, such as Compensation Specialists, for example, who are called upon as needed to serve the entire company in an internal consulting capacity. Company size also impacts the ratio of generalists to specialists. The larger the company, the more likely it is that it will create specialist positions.

Shared Services Model

Another current model gaining increased attention is the delivery of HR services via a “shared services” model. This is a centralized model in which HR specialists and generalists deliver services to the entire company on an as-needed basis, charged to the functional area served.

The central HR function also can perform normal or expected services such as administrative services (somebody has to do it!) on behalf of the company. These may be free to specific functions or the costs may be distributed over all functions.

The shared services model creates a more positive image for the HR Department as an internal consulting function rather than an administrative function, or in the other, less attractive ways the function has been traditionally viewed. A disadvantage of this approach can be the reluctance of other functions to utilize services for which they will be charged. An HR function operating in this environment would be wise to internally market its services to, or “partner” with, other functions.

WHERE IS HR GOING?

The future will be an interesting time for the Human Resource function. As one HR consultant observed (ACA Journal, Spring 1997), a review of the debates in the national business media might lead one to conclude that the future HR Department will be “a fraction of its size, with the remaining activities pushed up (to the CEO), down (to line management), out (to vendors and consultants) and in (to technology).”

Will it continue to exist, but as a smaller entity? Will it become functionally stronger, gaining greater acceptance, meaning and value in organizations where it serves? Or will its duties remain but be delivered in other forms?

Here are some of the more radical possibilities.

The Devolution of the HR Department

One scenario has the HR function being “devoluted” (i.e. de-evolved), with its tasks being redistributed or incorporated into other functional areas. Thus, managers in what once were the “customer” areas served by HR take on HR functions such as employment, compensation, counseling, and many more.

This envisioned future is disconcerting to HR professionals. A common reaction is that the supervisors and managers of other functional areas do not possess the HR professional’s knowledge, gained over a long period of time about matters such as discrimination law, dispute resolution, pay strategy, administrative requirements, designing and presenting training programs, and many other responsibilities resident within HR Departments. A major concern is that this lack of knowledge on the part of the receiving function about compliance law will result in financial damage to the company, in the form of fines and penalties.

In fact, the belief that the HR function can be devoluted can be a serious misconception. From the general HR literature, it appears that non-HR professionals, including Executives, sometimes minimize the value of the HR function. Consequently, they conclude that absorbing its responsibilities will be relatively easy. This is a very dangerous assumption. One reason why an absorption of duties does not work is the time demands placed upon the absorbing functions and individuals. Whether the HR role is one capable of absorption or not, time constraints prohibit its successful and timely execution.

Thus, the thinking about the HR function’s role and importance comes full circle. It is a unique function with unique preparatory requirements. In another irony of perspective concerning the absorption of the HR function, it is interesting to observe how commonly companies assign the HR function to the Financial function, but never the converse! In fact, both functions should be viewed as different, unique and, above all, separate.

Human Systems Management

Another scenario for the HR function’s future is a movement toward “Human Systems Management.” As briefly defined earlier, this is the management of human systems, or any organizational system in which the role, impact and reaction of the human element is of primary importance.

Human Systems Management encompasses much of what Human Resource Management has become, and more. In it, the HR function is re-creating, redefining, and essentially retuning for the Post-Modern and Information Ages. The system may be exclusively human (e.g. the process of team building) or sociotechnical (i.e. the interaction of people and technology). It may involve the redesign of work or the design of new pay systems to improve employee satisfaction and organizational performance. The key element is the human element. The desired outcome is twofold: improved individual and organizational performance.

In this HR future, we move away from the view of HR as a functional area and redefine it in terms of its internal consulting capabilities. Yet it still permits the HR function to fulfill a role we have come to expect, namely, to provide services which do not fit neatly into the roles of other functions. It is that “crossover” activity, in which the business’ operations must be understood and combined with the special expertise that HR professionals possess, including knowledge of organizational behavior, organizational theory, organizational development, and human resource management. Human Systems Management thinking recognizes that the HR professional has a unique view of the organization, and serves to capitalize upon it.

Shared Services Model

The Shared Services Model has become an increasingly popular model of HR Department design, and, as previously described, could be considered as a current design. What makes it more of a future model at this time, however, is its relative lack of implementation. Practitioners are still working out the organizational issues it creates, and discovering its usefulness.

In this model the HR Department acts as a kind of “central consulting organization” and, sometimes, even becomes a “profit center,.”” charging its services to other departments as its services are retained by them. While the traditional HR Department can provide consulting services out of its historically common structure, the consulting relationship is more formal in the shared services model. It is not the “old” HR Department redefining itself as internal consultants. Rather, it is a formal re-introduction of HR into the company as a functional area with a newly defined mission. This mission is to provide HR consulting services as requested for a fee.

While it may not actually be profitable as a profit center, it is an intriguing way to assess the organization’s need for HR services. If one believes that the HR function can act like a strategic partner, how often are we afforded the opportunity to prove it? Do others see HR as being a mutually useful and beneficial partner in order to achieve their business objectives? Being organized in a Shared Services Model will give you the answer quickly.

Outsourcing

An increasingly popular model today is outsourcing, which permits the HR function to rid itself of activities that can often be performed by others more effectively or economically. In other cases, outsourcing simply permits the HR function to turn its attention to other, more important matters.

It would be easy to view the use of outsourcing as a current phenomenon, not as something that will occur in the future. However, a growing change in the outsourcing strategies of companies is to move beyond the simple outsourcing of administrative tasks and into the realm of professional services like compensation program management and maintenance activities. For example, third parties may be used to maintain a company’s job descriptions. This is important and useful because this activity is normally a time-consuming responsibility that is often avoided internally. Third parties/consultants also can design and implement training and development programs, as well as conduct audits (e.g. pay program audits, retention audits, skill audits, etc.).

We have always outsourced a number of HR activities. These include contingent/retained recruiters, benefits administration, and training and development programs to some extent. What has changed? Specifically, it is the expansion of the activities that we are willing to outsource, spurred by the new rationale for outsourcing more HR activities: namely, that we are recognizing that the HR role can be performed much more effectively in other ways. We are moving away from the “administrative, service and control” HR model and toward the “strategic partner” HR model, and extensions of it. When we can lighten the load of HR functions in order to address more meaningful challenges, we are increasing our worth and value to our organizations. Outsourcing helps us to achieve this.

Environmental Scanning

This is, perhaps, the most unusual possible course of action for HR Department design in the future. Scanning refers to the monitoring of activities in the company’s external environment. Scanning activities have been part of the HR Department’s role for quite some time. For example, Compensation Departments are responsible for conducting pay surveys to gather external marketplace data. The HR Department also scans governmental activity to monitor changes in laws which affect the management of people. Employment Managers monitor demographic changes in the workforce to establish recruitment strategies.

The suggestion, therefore, is that the HR Department become the entity which is responsible for those and other scanning activities, some of which may now be performed by other functional areas, such as Marketing which is responsible for market research, or for outsourcing tasks (once again, to the “outside” of the company).

The possibilities are endless but require very different thinking about the tasks of different departments and a willingness to centralize them under the new entity. Like any other cross-functional redesign effort, a “natural work group” of tasks (i.e. a combined task group that makes sense) would need to be assembled to make this vision a reality. Not all external scanning possibilities would make sense for grouping in a department that, in the end, may have a name other than the Human Resource Department. It could be called the “Environmental Monitoring” Department, as one of many possibilities. Whatever its name, the core concept is that what happens on the outside of our companies is important and worth researching, or simply, good “strategic management.”

CONCLUSION

Ask someone to quickly define the purpose of an HR Department and you’ll receive some interesting answers, from both practitioners and non-practitioners alike. The diversity of their answers reflects the uniqueness of the HR function.

We seemingly can’t live with the HR function, nor without it. It is becoming something more than it has been historically, and yet it faces the prospect of further evolutionary change. Different methods of service delivery will be seen in different companies. The demand for services will differ depending upon the company and its view of the role and purpose of the HR function.

I believe it is safe to say that the HR function can be “something more” than it has been in many companies. In some, HR has already demonstrated how valuable its contribution can be. In others, it continues to provide only administrative support. Perhaps the solution rests in what the contract will be between the HR function and the organization it serves. What does the organization want HR to be?

We see the potential emergence of the HR function as a “hybrid” structure, consisting of the valuable parts of its past, but combined with new services and approaches aimed at supporting the new business entities and thinking that have emerged in the last fifteen years. For example, the training and development of human assets has now become just as important to the managers of Manufacturing, Engineering, and other functional areas, as it has always been to the HR professional. This convergence of thought provides new opportunities to the HR professional to serve in ways which are increasingly valuable and meaningful to supported functions.

With these changes come new opportunities for HR professionals to influence and impact not only the design and delivery of HR services, but to shape the image of the HR profession in the new millennium. As HR professionals, we should be excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

By David Wudyka, Managing Principal,

Westminster Associates

Westminster Associates is a New England-based, full-service human-resource and compensation consulting firm specializing in compensation, performance management and productivity improvement for organizations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, as well as across the country.

David Wudyka, SPHR, MBA, BSIE, manages and oversees all Company operations, including the design, development, and implementation of all client HR programs. With more than thirty years of professional HR experience, he has a strong interest today in the increasingly emerging role of the HR department as a strategic partner, employee retention strategies, and group incentive plans.

Mr. Wudyka was one of the first 200 people in the U.S. to be certified in the field of Compensation by the former American Compensation Association. In addition he is certified by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). He also teaches the SHRM Certification Program at Bryant University, Smithfield, RI.

Closer To Truth: Human Uniqueness

There is an ongoing PBS TV series (also several books and also a website) called “Closer To Truth”. It is hosted by neuroscientist Robert Lawrence Kuhn. He’s featured in one-on-one interviews and panel discussions with the cream of the cream of today’s cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, theologians, psychologists, etc. on all of the Big Questions surrounding a trilogy of broad topics – Cosmos; Consciousness; Meaning. The trilogy collectively dealt with reality, space and time, mind and consciousness, aliens, theology and on and on and on. Here are a few of my comments on one of the general topics covered, a subject dealing with the alleged uniqueness of the human species.

What are Persons?

IMHO we really, really need to get away from this idea that we, humans, persons, whatever are an organism and thus are somehow a single biological entity. We are a colony or organisms, cells is what we call them, and any discussion about what constitutes a person needs to come to grips with that biological fact. So, person-hood starts with that first cell. You are a person when you are asleep because your cells are still alive and awake and strutting their cellular stuff. Someone with severe mental deficiencies is a person because their bodily cells are still functional, such persons don’t all of a sudden divest themselves of their cellular structures. The same applies to any injury or disease of the brain or any other part of you for that matter. You only cease being a person when all of your cells are dead, and that actually doesn’t happen until after you are declared to be [medically] dead. So, in that sense, the sense that we are a colony of organisms, we don’t differ uniquely from other multi-cellular organisms. So, what does it mean to be a person? It means being an integrated living colony of cells, albeit the organization of that colony will differ from colony to colony (person to person), which isn’t surprising when you consider that any one colony (any one person) is comprised of billions of individual parts or cells. The odds that any two colonies (any two people) will be identical are astronomically against.

What makes Personal Identity Continue?

What makes the identity of the ocean continue? I mean the identity of the oceans remains the same from year to year even though with every passing second, water is evaporating and new water is entering via rain, melting icebergs, and the flow of rivers. The various atoms and molecules of the other gases in our atmosphere enter and leave the oceans on an ever ongoing basis. If this is not a mysterious process in oceanography, why should it be mysterious when it comes to our personal identity, and while we are at it, let’s not single out the human species. The same applies to the personal identity of all the other animals, even plants and microbes.

How are Humans Unique 1?

Of course humans are unique, but so too is each and every other animal (and plant) species that is, has been, or probably ever will be even if for no other reason than we recognize other species. We can tell a cat apart from a dog because cats are unique (as a species) and dogs are unique as a species. Each species probably has some trait(s) or characteristic(s) that makes them top-of-the-pops in that category. That applies to humans too of course. We are king-of-the-mountain, but not when it comes to every possible trait or characteristic. One other point is that okay, humans may be king-of-the-mountain with respect to this trait or that characteristic, let’s say intelligence. We are number one with respect to intelligence (at least until we find ET or until artificial intelligence relegates us to second place). But our uniqueness with respect to intelligence is only by degree, it is not absolute. Many other species have intelligence too, and not only other primates like the chimpanzee. Whales and dolphins rate pretty high in intelligence too, and many a bird is pretty damn smart. In fact to be called a “bird-brain” is actually a compliment. Then there is the elephant, a highly intelligent species unfortunately headed towards extinction at the hands of intelligent humans. And it’s not just vertebrates either. The humble octopus has quite the IQ too. So yes, humans can pat themselves on the back about how unique we are, but there are so many qualifiers that I wonder if it is worth making all that much fuss over.

How are Humans Unique 2?

How were the dinosaurs unique? Let us not forget that if it hadn’t of been for a fluke asteroid strike 65 million years ago, dinosaurs would still be king-of-the-mountain here on Planet Earth. There’s been a lot of speculation that one dinosaur type in particular, the theropod branch of the non-avian dinosaurs, wherein some species are known to have had the best brain to body size ratio of all the dinosaurs, including a bipedal gait with freed up “hands”, would have evolved to become the equivalent of humans, had not that asteroid smacked into our planet.

How Humans Differ from Other Animals 1

Well yes, humans differ from other animals, although I’m not sure that’s something to be overly proud of. I’ve often thought that while humans have the IQ, it’s the animals that really have the smarts. Animals don’t need an alarm clock to wake them up! Seriously, we humans tend to attach great importance to things that aren’t really important at all, and if truth be known, if animals were aware of that, they’d be snickering behind our backs. I mean humans attach great importance to the Academy Awards (and hundreds of similar award ceremonies like beauty pageants). Why does the “vast superiority of human mentality” attach such significance to these sorts of happenings? Another example is the outcomes of sporting events. What’s the real significance of the Olympic Games? Is it really important enough to justify all the money and all the hype? What’s so important about wearing a suit and tie to work? Does this attire really make you do a better job? In fact the entire fashion industry is a waste of talent and resources. No animal could ever understand a woman’s obsession with shoes! Animals are smart. They wouldn’t waste their time watching daytime television sitcoms and ‘reality’ TV. Animals would find nothing interesting about celebrities or royalty. Animals aren’t racist and aren’t so up themselves as to give themselves honorary titles like Sir, or Saint, or Your Highness, or in fact the word Honourable. Can you imagine an animal being obsessed with social media ‘likes’ and endlessly taking photographs of oneself? What’s so special about human nature that we need to take drugs that we know will harm us. Animal nature wouldn’t have a bar of this behaviour. And why are Americans in particular obsessed with owning guns – more of that vast mental superiority of ours? When is the last time you saw a animal who required holidays and weekends off, or who attributed special significance to some sort of date? What animal gives a damn about midnight and New Years Eve turning into New Years Day? It’s also so amusing to see how humans like to put themselves up on a pedestal as in look at us and how unique we are and how different we are from mere animals. I sometimes get the impression that humans worship humans or at least the concept of humans or humanity more than they worship deities! That vast superiority of human mentality may ultimately be the cause of our extinction. The animals will have the last laugh, assuming we don’t drive them to extinction first.

How Humans Differ from Other Animals 2

I would maintain that humans and animals share more traits than differ. In thinking about this, I decided to compare and contrast myself with my companion animals – cats. For starters, we are both mammals. We both are warm blooded and have left-right symmetry. We each were conceived, born, experienced parental care and nursing, experienced play, growth, maturity, ageing and eventually death. We are both prone to various afflictions and diseases. We both need to eat, digest food, eliminate waste products including taking in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, and scratch where it itches. When it comes to food we’re both carnivores, and cats will nibble on some plant material too, like grass. We both can eat and digest red meat (mice for cats) and white meat (birds and fish). We each have five senses including binocular vision. We each use sex in order to reproduce and pass on our genes. We each have a brain and an automatic nervous system. We each have a subconscious, and a consciousness, and of course memory. We can both learn, and learn from our mistakes. We both sleep and dream. We both yawn and stretch. We both think, weigh up options, and make decisions. We both can problem solve. We’re both an equally curious species. We each react to external stimuli. We equally respond to fight or flight options as required. We can both adequately communicate our needs and wants. We both exhibit body language. We both have emotions as well as likes and dislikes. We each have a sense of morality or ethics. Cats aren’t that big on the arts, but I’ve had cats that respond favorably to music and no doubt to them the sight of a full food bowl is artistic beauty indeed. Given how much cats love warmth and sunny spots it wouldn’t surprise me that in the inner recesses of their minds they didn’t have the concept of a Sun god. They certainly have some understanding of physics when they chase after a ball in flight; they respect the nature of gravity. Okay, mathematics is beyond them, but a lot of mathematics is beyond me too. And yes, cats walk on four legs while we walk on two, and most cats have a tail and have a lot more body hair than we have, but that’s hardly a significant difference. If we were to tighten the parallels by contrasting ourselves with the higher primates then we also encompass tool-making and tool use, language (even if just as sign language), and they too have some abstract concepts of not-things as opposed to knowing about just things. Primates know a bit about basic economics and trade, even if it is trading sex for grooming. While one could go on and on comparing and contrasting, I think the point is made that humans and animals are way more alike than in our differences.

How Humans Differ from Other Animals 3

Try as I might, I cannot seem to be able to teach my cats even the most fundamental basics of mathematics. That implies that their grey matter hasn’t evolved enough to be up to the task. So, I can pat myself on the back and say how different and unique I am from my cats since I can do the fundamentals of mathematics and they can’t. But then that got me thinking that we humans seem to feel that there is nothing in theory that we can’t grasp or understand or comprehend. There is nothing the cosmos can exhibit in the way of complexity that we can’t eventually come to terms with and fully understand. Life, the Universe and everything is our comprehensible oyster. But what if humans are relative to something else, like ET, in the same way as my cats and their ability to comprehend mathematics are relative to me? Might not a super-intelligent, super-advanced race of extraterrestrial beings be able to understand concepts that we just couldn’t in a pink fit have a hope or a clue of understanding with our relatively lack of sophisticated grey matter? If aliens might look down upon humans the way humans look down on the animals, well, it would probably serve us right to be knocked off our self-erected pedestal.

How Humans Differ from Other Animals 4

There are a number of traits that appear to suggest human uniqueness, though I maintain these traits are not a step-function but a continuum, albeit a line that still places humans well in front of most if not all other animals.

Trait number one is our “naked ape” status relative to the other 183 or so species of primates. However, as we all well know, we are not absolutely hairless, so the difference is one of degree.

Trait number two is that we alone walk upright without benefit of a balancing tail. However, this too is a matter of degree since some primates, and other mammals (bears) and birds (penguins) do have the ability to use and can use a bipedal gait, albeit used sparingly.

Trait number three is our very high IQ. However, again there is a continuum between bacteria and humans. It would be wrong to suggest that every other animal has the IQ of an amoeba. Many primates, many birds, the whales and dolphins, the elephants, even the humble octopus has a reasonable IQ.

Trait number four is that we are a racially diverse species. That’s a polite way of saying we come in breeds. However, many other species have ‘races’ in the sense they have between them diversity and distinctions enough to be considered that they too come in unique breeds.

Trait number five is that we are a facially diverse species. Humans tend to recognise humans, especially humans they haven’t actually met, via their unique facial features. In police line-ups and in courtroom identifications it tends to be the face that gives the game away. You’d be hard pressed to distinguish between cockroaches or alligators or brown bears or penguins based on their face. However, if you work really closely on a daily basis with say chimpanzees or just about any other vertebrate species, their minor facial details come to the fore and you can tell them apart. The bottom line in any event is that animals can tell those of their own species apart and that’s what counts.

Arguing God from Human Uniqueness 1?

What on earth makes anyone think that human beings are unique? We may have vastly greater social development, but vastly greater isn’t the same as unique. Humans may have superior mental capabilities but that’s not the same as unique. As the late Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan argue in their book “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are”, there is absolutely nothing 100% unique about the human species. Sure, we can pat ourselves on the back about being king of the mountain with regards to this trait, or we are top of the pops with respect to some other trait, but when you slice and dice things, those traits differ from other animal species by matter of degree, they don’t differ absolutely. Our differences are relative. The only exception just might be human only concepts involving a relatively few abstractions, like the supernatural and an alleged soul and an afterlife and a sense of history, but all of that is just part of our superior mental abilities, not unique mental abilities. And least we forget, each and every other animal species is king of the mountain with respect to some trait or other. It really is time human beings ceased being so absolutely up themselves. In fact that just might be a human uniqueness! And in any event, uniqueness doesn’t translate of necessity as a gift from God. It could just as easily be a gift from Mother Nature via the normal processes of biological evolution and natural selection.

Arguing God from Human Uniqueness 2?

What I see here, and in similar “Closer to Truth” segments on the question of human uniqueness, is a human interviewing humans about humans. There would seem to be some sort of obvious bias operating here. Humans arguing about human uniqueness have an obvious reason to pat humans (and therefore themselves) on the back. In short, I get the decided impression that humans are totally up themselves. This discussion will only become a fair and equal discussion when animals are asked the same question about their uniqueness versus human uniqueness. What a tale that might tell! To date, we are getting just one side of the story – the human version. Okay, I know that the other side of the coin isn’t able to be aired, at least not yet, although communication between man and certain animal species is improving all the time. However, until such time as the animals can speak on this program for themselves instead of having humans put words in their mouths, I will reserve judgment about just how really special we are.