Seven Words Your Regular Employees Can’t Stand

Don’t be too disappointed when your regular employees don’t get enthused about these seven words that you think are great.


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


by Mark Goulston and Doc Barham, Xtraordinary Outcomes

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.

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


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.*

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

* 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”

About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit