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Management Speak in the Post-Digital Age

At a recent board meeting of our advisers, we had a lively discussion about the role that workplace vernacular plays in the effective functioning of organizations.  Many expressions used in contemporary organizations have their roots in hierarchical models that may not be relevant in the highly networked world.  Sports and combat analogies depict the workplace as a win/lose proposition, ignoring opportunities for collaboration.  And some frequently used expressions that are just plain offensive (“opening the kimono”) just won’t go away.

Is it just an internal marketing ploy to change the labels on things; i.e. “colleague vs. employee”, or does it really make a difference? How do leaders prevent their messages from coming across as hollow?  What communication practices build trust and engagement vs. cynicism, ensuring that there is congruence between messages and organizational structures?

Our board members Tim Porter O’Grady and David Creelman joined me for a discussion on this topic.

Click here to listen in: Management Speak in the Post Digital Age

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  1. My experience is that changing workplace language for the sake of change — a long cherished management practice, I’m afraid — only drives cynicism and dis-engagement in employees. For example, policies that mandate referring to employees as “associates” or “team members” are frequently viewed by workers as a management fixation that seems to focus on (and place a value in) the wrong kind of things.

    But the issue of workplace language IS highly relevant in today’s business world. The old military-focused “command and control” management structures, and the military-like business terminology that flows from that, is a huge demotivator for Millennials. They want to work in a more collaborative structure and not just get ordered around, so “command and control” workplace language can really hinder any ability to work with these younger workers in the most effective manner possible.

    By the same token, sports metaphors and language can be exclusionary for employees who simply don’t like or follow sports. Using sports terminology may work with a certain sub-group but it is likely to hinder your ability to work with a larger cross-section of workers.

    The key for me is for managers to use language that effectively contributes to the overall work environment without going overboard and using silly terminology that is more appropriate to a mocking Dilbert cartoon.

    This is probably a diversity issue at some level, and something far too few managers spend very much time thinking about. Perhaps more focus on this topic — and the podcast here at Kronos is a good start — will help to get managers and executives at all levels to think a bit more before they launch into this kind of ineffective and old style workforce-speak.

    April 20, 2011
  2. Words have always had power. The right words convey the right message and the wrong words convey the wrong message. Just as the world around us has changed managers need to make sure they are using the appropriate words to get the correct response.

    Is it a problem or an opportunity. Is it a contract or an agreement. Is the glass 1/2 empty or half full, or maybe the glass is just to big. Is in truly onboard or is it really induction? If you are going to call them team member or associates you better treat them as such. With in one week of being hired they will know what value the organization really put on them.

    April 20, 2011
  3. Having spent my entire career in HR, I am very aware that the choice of words used to describe actions and/or workplace roles is critically important. That said, I must admit that I have learned SO MUCH during the last twelve months as I have worked with CUPA-HR volunteer leaders to develop a diversity, equity and inclusion position statement and clear action plan for higher education HR professionals and for CUPA-HR. Our workplace is becoming more and more diverse. For our organizations to thrive, HR professionals and everyone else in the organization must understand the value of an inclusive workplace and be held accountable for clearly demonstrating an ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. This should be demonstrated every day through the roles we define within our organizations and the words we choose when interacting with our colleagues.

    April 21, 2011
  4. Language and the work place has always been a key role in effective and efficient management. This also reminds me of the concept of metrics. Where if the organization and all it’s sub counter parts are not speaking the same “language” than the the value of each department begins to falter and fall.

    December 24, 2013

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