By James Stakem
When I compare my Marine Corps and corporate experiences, one of the most striking differences is in the language used to describe individuals in the two environments. In the Marine Corps there is a lot of pride in being a Marine. To be a Marine is to be part of something special. In the corporate world, this level of connection to and pride in an organization is rare, maybe non-existent. To be fair, there are significant differences between the military and corporate world; however, there are lessons to be learned from the military about building a culture and team.
Many companies invest heavily in culture, but when leaders in these organizations refer to their employees as assets, resources, direct reports, and the like, they indicate a poor understanding of some of the basic tenets of building a positive team culture. What kind of culture is built when employees in an organization are referred to as resources? The first time I heard the term resource as a reference to an employee was in a job interview. It took me a few minutes to figure out that a “resource” was a human being. As a Marine, I can’t imagine an environment where someone says, “We need to get some ‘resources’ to charge that hill”; however, companies do the corporate equivalent all the time.
This is not to say that the only thing a company needs to do in order to build a culture is to come up with a slick name for the employees. There is a lot more to it than that, and in the case of the Marine Corps, the organization builds esprit de corps in a multitude of ways. That being said, when companies refer to their employees in an impersonal, transactional way, it’s hard to imagine they could build a strong team, regardless of other efforts.
Zappos is an example of an organization that gets it when it comes to culture. CEO, Tony Hsieh says in Your Culture is Your Brand:
“At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own”
Unfortunately, some organizations believe that culture is a consequence of an organization’s outputs instead of the other way around. This approach leads organizations to focus on creating products and providing services, and culture becomes an afterthought to be developed in a ten-minute staff meeting exercise.
Other organizations, such as Google, have developed a culture around their people. Employees at Google are called “Googlers,” but building a culture goes much deeper than a simple name. The technology giant doesn’t have a Human Resources department – instead they have People Operations, and there is a reason for the difference. Google’s People Operations department states, “… we’re the champions of Google’s colorful culture.” Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, says:
“Nurturing the people in your organization doesn’t require expensive perks or touchy-feely gimmicks. It’s about motivating, engaging and listening – and it can work for anybody”
How motivating and engaging is it when valuable employees are referred to as a resource or direct report? When thinking about joining a company which says, “Our employees are our greatest resource” listen closely to make sure the daily corporate interactions uphold this principle. If you are an organization that espouses to value employees, take some time to make sure your routine language matches the image you portray on the company website. Creating a culture in which employees routinely speak of each other in a way that emphasizes value, connection, and respect is a critical step in creating a positive corporate culture in your organization.
Please share your stories of corporate language in your organizations in the comment section below.