There are a few commonly-used phrases in business conversation that raise the hair on my neck.
Here are three of my favorites, along with one (‘innovation’) that we hear bandied about in the tech press on what seems like an hourly basis.
- Industry Norms
- Best Practices
- Human Capital
They sound like such good things, so you may wonder why they’re so hair-raising.
You might be thinking that they’re just words, but they could be the lexicon of your business culture. The problem with these phrases is that they sound like one thing but they usually mean something entirely different.
Does it matter? I think so. Employees and even contractors look to the leader of a business for signals that they walk their talk. Words that undermine the stated business culture can do a lot of integrity damage.
Let’s review the phrases I mentioned.
This one is a little sneaky because it seems to convey that you are doing as well as those in your industry who are normal.
What is “normal”, exactly?
In this context, I think of it as average. That means if you are meeting industry norms, you are right smack in the middle. Not doing poorly, but not leading the industry.
I wouldn’t consider that a goal unless you are currently below average – and even then, it should be a pit stop rather than a destination.
When your staff sees industry norm statistics in trade publications, I’m thinking you would want them to consider those as something they’d want to see in the rear view mirror, rather than something to aspire to.
This one is similar to “industry norms” because it conveys the average, or perhaps a little history lesson.
To me, “Best Practices” are those things that are considered the least common denominator of business practice in your industry.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be performing them – it means that the businesses leading your market no longer sees them as something to start doing or strive for. Instead, they consider them assumptions of how to do business, rather than something done only by the best businesses.
If you’re the leader in your market, you know that you can look back at things you started doing two or three (or ten) years ago and find that the average or lower-tier businesses are just now catching on to them.
I see Temple Grandin watching over a feedlot. She observes people’s behavior as they are herded through a Dodge City feedlot’s gates, chutes and ramps. Occasionally, she makes suggestions for how to adjust things so people are less likely to become upset as they mindlessly parade along.
If you’re in the financial industry, “human capital” might be a more positive term, but in that context is still feels a bit like something to consume, spend or exhaust in order to achieve a goal. Like firewood.
If you use it in the context of investment and improvement, I can see a positive, but the word choice is something to be very careful with.
Let me redefine it for you: Innovation lights up the face of a customer.
Is that what happens when they see your latest new feature?
This doesn’t really matter does it?
Your staff makes that decision about you and your leadership team. I suspect you make it about those you consider leaders.
When you listen to a local, state or national leader speak – do you dissect their comments and make any judgments based on the words they use?
When viewed through that lens, do your words seem more important?
Another angle: If your employees rolled their eyes every time you spoke, how would that make you feel? I suspect it would tick you off if you were face to face.
Now imagine them rolling their eyes because of something you said in an email, on a conference call or perhaps to a customer while that employee is within earshot.
What words reflect your business culture?
The culture of your business is reflected in the words you and your leaders use every day to describe your business, your people, your products and your prospects in the marketplace.
Are they leading your staff & your business culture in the wrong direction?