Seven Words Your Regular Employees Can't Stand

Vision, Mission, Culture, Values, Strategy, Objectives, Goals

by Mark Goulston and Doc Barham, Xtraordinary Outcomes

"When you use any of these words, how often do your regular employees that will be tasked with executing the details, start to salivate with enthusiasm and have a look that says, ‘Let me sink my teeth into that!’?" we asked one of our CEO clients.

He started to laugh and said, "Rarely.  In fact, a quarter of the people are looking at their Blackberrys or iPhones to check their messages."

When you start to talk about any of these, if you can’t see how tentative your people’s smiles are, you are not observant.  If you don’t realize that even if they are smiling and nodding from the neck up (out of deference or fear of authority), they are not engaging from the neck down, you are not clued in.  Most likely you do notice, but these words are so much of your vocabulary, you can't imagine using others.

Why are these words more likely to feel like nails on a chalkboard to your people than a call to action that excites and spontaneously enrolls them?

In a robust economy where people have emotional breathing room these words might be tolerated or even inspiring.  However in a tight economy where fear abounds consider some of the following that may be on their minds and be distracting them:

  • "Will I still have a job in six months?"
  • "If I lose my job, where will I go, who will hire me and (if I’m over 45) will I even be hirable?"
  • "It’s easy for you to say because you have a golden or silver parachute or a severance package that will give you months to breathe, while I would get two weeks pay and a ‘Goodbye and good luck’."
  • "It’s also easy for you to say, because you’re doing the ‘assigning’ and we will be stuck with the ‘doing’."
  • "You can go back to your office to work on ‘bigger’ issues and we will have to deal with the scarce resources and the lack of cooperation from other parts of our company to achieve what you’re telling us and if we’re in sales, having to come up with a new way to twist the arms of our new and current clients and customers who just want to say, ‘No’."
  • "We talked about these things last year.  Whatever happened to those?"
  • "Neither we nor you know specifically or exactly what you mean by those words – most of us don’t even know the difference between vision and mission — and when we work hard to achieve what you want and you then tell us we did the wrong thing, you have no idea how demoralizing that is."
  • "I have a parent or a child or a spouse or a marriage that is falling through the cracks and I’m drinking more, so thank you for something more to add to my ‘to do list’ that is already not getting done."

Then consider what those seven words have in common:

  • They are abstract and leave too much to the imagination.  Imagination —> Misperception —> Misinterpretation —> Missed Execution.
  • They require a forward cognitive bias, meaning they require people to look into their future, whereas the majority of people especially when anxious they have a reverse cognitive bias, meaning that they react to things either positively or negatively after they have happened.*

The main problem with using these seven words is that they result in an emotional, psychological and cognitive disconnect between leaders and regular employees right out of the gate when what you most need is something that connects leaders and employees.

One word that seems to connect both leaders and employees is: "outcomes."  Built into that word is the implicit and explicit understanding and agreement that effective actions lead to good outcomes; ineffective actions lead to poor outcomes.  Also "outcomes" is different than "goals" or "objectives" especially when it comes to performance review time where compensation and promotions are being considered.  During those reviews you are much less rated on your goals or objectives than on your outcomes.

* Find out more about forward and reverse cognitive biases and how to get through to people by getting into their thinking at the video: "Change Your Thinking Forever in 8 Minutes"

Add New Comment

0 Comments