We’re Called People, People!

Written by Alicia Parr

Published on Nov 22, 2016
Not too long ago, I was at an HR event with HR speakers.  It was a good event, well attended, but there was something that really bothered me.  It kept showing up in the fine lines between the big ideas.  It showed up shod in steel-toed boots with pointy heels, when comfortable shoes would have been better. The irritant can sound different—can use different words– but is ultimately the same in a distressing way.

What is this bothersome thing?

Now I might get some HR noses out of joint, because this bothersome thing is a common habit. It’s a common habit of people in HR.  It’s a common habit of people in leadership roles.  Its commonness makes it seem less insidious than it is. So when I criticize, please know that I do this out of love for people and that includes the people who do the work of HR. Please STOP referring to the people of your business using labels that dehumanize.  What do I mean?
    • People aren’t TALENT. Talent is something people have.  Something people offer to a business.
    • People aren’t CAPITAL.  Capital is a form of wealth.  It’s created through the energy and ideas of people.
    • People aren’t the PIPELINE, or the RESOURCES, or the WORKFORCE, or LABOR, or whatever other clever neologism we create next.
People are humans.  Sometimes they are employees.  Sometimes they are leaders.  Sometimes they are colleagues, team members, and candidates. But know this. People are always, always PEOPLE.  Your business- every business- is a people ecosystem. So stop it.  Stop trying to sound smart and expert by using jargon that depersonalizes the most beautiful, wonderful part of any business enterprise.  Stop using words that allow us to forget that the “talent” isn’t a thing we can design, ship and manufacture.  That “human capital” isn’t a real thing we can count and sort on our macro-powered spreadsheet.  And that your “workforce” is really just a collection of people, each with their own hopes, dreams, and ideas.

Don’t feel bad.  We all do it.

I know.  I know.  Sometimes calling people employees and leaders and candidates is descriptive in a useful way.  Sometimes highlighting the focus on fostering talent in our job duties is worth highlighting. Here’s my challenge to you—find every opportunity to insert the word “people” any time you feel inclined to say “employee”, or “talent base”, or “workforce”, or whatever else. See what happens.  See how that might change how you communicate about your field of expertise.  See how communicating differently about your work leads you to think differently about your work. Never use language that depersonalizes people.  Not on purpose.  It only makes you look like a peacock signaling your I’m-so-smart-tail-feathers to other HR peacocks.  I know you don’t meant to do that. I know it’s just old habits dying hard. In fact, we just looked through our website to find every opportunity to call people what they are– people.  We debated whether we call the people not in managerial or HR roles by something other than employees, but decided that was easiest to understand. Let’s work together to build new, better habits.  Let’s collectively change business by constantly reminding ourselves that #PeopleMakeitHappen. All right, people?

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