Watch Your Mouth

Seven words and phrases that you should never use around a free agent.

Even in this disparaging economy of layoffs and flameouts, leading companies are battling to keep their most valuable talent in place. So how do you attract and retain stars today? Well, you could start by never muttering the word “retain” again.


In fact, if your company hopes to endure the talent wars, you must wipe your vocabulary clean of the seven nasty words and phrases listed below. They are the dirty words of Free Agent Nation, the baker’s half-dozen of linguistic evil that makes talented people’s skin crawl.

Empowerment: In the free-agent economy, individuals empower organizations — not the other way around. (Hidden thought: “I think I’ll empower General Motors by showing up for work today.”) Forget your patronizing attempts to spoon a few dollops of power into your employees’ bowls. Instead, thank them for empowering you.

Flexibility: Nice try, but you’re not quite there. You can’t just extend the curfew. You have to treat people like adults. Don’t think flexibility. Think liberation.

Human Resources: Oil is a resource. Timber is a resource. Water is a resource. People are not resources — they’re not waiting in reserve to be mined, irrigated, or drilled. Alternative: talent center.

Retention: You can inspire, motivate, challenge, terrify, and bribe people. But thanks to man’s powerful combination of brains and legs, you can never “retain” him. Things you can retain: cattle, earnings, water. Things you can’t retain: human beings.

Pay Your Dues: Work isn’t a country club. Nobody has to pay dues. They just have to do great work.


Promotion: The free-agent economy operates by the Peter-Out Principle. Wanna crush the job satisfaction of most creative and technical people in your company? Try promoting them.

Work For: Question: How many people work for you? If your answer is greater than zero, you’ve got a serious problem. Nobody works for you. People work for themselves, for the challenge, for the money, for their families — but not for you. If anything, you work for them.

Got any other words that should be banished from the free-agent economy? Send me an email ( In the meantime, please watch your mouth.

Read the Main Story:
Free Agent Nation (Still) Wants You!