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Think Twice Truths About Conventional Wisdom

By milling around HR trade shows, I hear a variety of buzzwords, catchphrases,and clichés. I thought I’d examine whether three I heard this summerhave any validity.

“When you communicate, always be polite.”
Our society — and in turn, our workplaces — has gottenso sensitive about what we say that we often fail to communicate what we reallymean.

We don’t have to work so hard at sugarcoating.

“If you want a workplace that’s very innovativeand moves fast, people have to cut to the chase and say what they really mean,”says Peg C. Neuhauser, a corporate culture guru. “I’m not advocating rude.But you’re going to have to find a way to tell it like it is.”

One of Neuhauser’s clients was a large company thathappened to be in the HR consulting business. Every time this company held ameeting, she says, “When someone made a statement and the group disagreed,the others would say, ‘Let me build on what Todd just said,’ instead of ‘Todd,you’re a full-blown idiot.’ ‘Let me build on’ was code that you were going togo into a 180-degree direction.”

Neuhauser isn’t advocating name-calling. But she triedto get the company to come up with a more direct phrase than “Let me buildon….” Instead, she suggested: “That’s not exactly the way I seeit.”

The company didn’t adopt the expression, but it diddiscuss the issue of being more straightforward. Staff members still use thewords “let me build on,” but when they do, everyone laughs. “Thecompany’s culture changed on a dime,” Neuhauser says. “What it’s doneis use humor as a springboard for being more open and honest with one another.”

“Everyone should be strategic.”
Even if everyone could be strategic — which is nevergoing to happen — it probably wouldn’t be a great idea. That’s because strategiesare a dime a dozen, but two things prevent many of them from going anywhere.

First of all, many organizations have a hard time convincingtheir workforces that they should really care about the strategy, really embraceit.

“A lot of organizations have strategies, but theystay pretty much on paper rather than in the hearts and minds of people,”says Colleen O’Sullivan, a leadership director at AchieveGlobal, a major internationaltraining company. O’Sullivan says management has to present a better argumentfor a strategy than the fact that it might make money.

Second, even if employees buy into a strategy, unfortunatelythey often aren’t trained in the skills they need to carry it out. “IfI don’t know it, I don’t care about it, and most important, I’m not competentto do it, it won’t happen,” she says.

“Make your employees feel like the office is a home.”
Businesses have invested tremendous energy in makingemployees feel like their offices are their homes. Employers are blurring thelines between work and home by providing discounts on sporting events and travel,time for naps, and benefits like dry-cleaning and concierge services, as wellas letting employees bring their pets to work.

That’s all great, but it carries two risks.

First, when employees feel like the office is a home,it raises their expectations so high that the employer may never be able tofulfill them. They may forget that money spent on all that dry-cleaning doesn’tcome from thin air.

“Installing expensive programs the corporationcan’t afford and people really don’t need is not only foolhardy, it’s the antithesisof caring, because someday somebody’s gotta pay for that stuff,” says BillCatlette, author of Contented Cows Give Better Milk.

Also, it’s probably a lot more painful for employeesif they are let go. The employees lose not just a job, but a second home.

A homey environment makes such decisions harder foreveryone, Catlette says. “In those corporations where layoffs are beinginflicted, it surely hurts more, at least for the folks who have to leave, andfor those whose duty it is to deliver that message.”

Workforce, August 2001, pp.SubscribeNow!

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