Every industry has its own buzzwords and catchphrases, and the human resources profession is no different. It has hundreds.
Whether to inspire and build morale or to create a common language among peers, these HR expressions have had a long history and have served a purpose. While some of these phrases are ready for retirement, others need to be tweaked to reflect HR’s evolving role in the new world of work.
Since “our people really do matter” and “employees are our most important asset,” HR must now focus more closely on the employee experience. An asset is usually a number on a balance sheet and employees aren’t numbers, nor do they want to be viewed as one. If you’re still treating an employee like a number then it’s time that you learned his or her name. Now that might be a better catch phrase for the 21st century workplace.
“Seat at the table” is another catchphrase that has overstayed its welcome, as it is now indisputable that HR professionals at every level contribute to the success of an organization’s business strategy.
Talent strategist Mary Faulkner, SHRM-SCP, has a keen understanding of the HR profession and the trends that have shaped it over the years. In a recent interview for this chat she said:
"The funny thing about catchphrases or business buzzwords is that they initially came from a good place. They were a language shortcut—a quick way to convey a situation, philosophy or other basic tenet of business that didn't require a lengthy explanation. Everyone ‘got it’ because they had all lived it and didn't need the back story.
“Fast forward 10 years, and suddenly, all anyone uses in business are buzzwords. It became a non-language. Have you ever seen the (now defunct) Dilbert Mission Statement Generator? It basically took nonsense catchphrases and turned them into a company mission statement—and I wouldn't be surprised if companies actually used it to make their mission statement. Shows like “The Office” and movies like “Office Space” make us laugh because we recognize our own reliance on making saying nothing sound important.
“So how does that relate to HR? HR has been taught to use the ‘language of the business,’ which apparently extends to using catchphrases, too. We started using them amongst ourselves—almost like a code for talking about awful bosses, difficult employees, impossible situations, annual enrollment, etc. As HR gained visibility and stature in organizations, there was more opportunity to give an elevator pitch to the C-suite. What better way to get the boss's attention than to package it in a phrase? It was a sales tool.
“Catchphrases always start out okay—after all, they have to catch on, right? But they get old … and fast. At their most benign, they sound like clichés. At their most harmful, they limit unique thought. You still need them. All professions have a shorthand vocab to help people communicate complex ideas quickly. But why rely on old chestnuts when they no longer accurately reflect the nature of work today—especially the work HR does?"
What are some of your favorite—or least favorite—HR catchphrases, and how would you rework them for the 21st century workplace? What new HR catchphrases would better reflect the strategic role of the HR profession and the relentless pace of change in the modern world that will continue to alter HR’s role?
Please join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on February 1 for a #Nextchat with special guest Mary Faulkner (@mfaulkner43). We’ll chat about HR catchphrases and how they’re evolving in the 21st century workplace.
Q1. Do you use HR catchphrases, and what are some of your favorites?
Q2. Is the “war for talent” still on, or has the situation evolved beyond that? Is a new catchphrase needed? What should it be?
Q3. Is the catchphrase “work/life balance” still applicable in today’s 24/7 workplace? How would you modify it?
Q4. How would you change the catchphrase “employee engagement” for the 21st century workplace?
Q5. How would you alter the catchphrase “seat at the table” to better reflect HR’s role in business strategy?
Q6. Cite an example of another HR catchphrase that is still meaningful but that needs a makeover—how would you change it?
Q7. Which HR catchphrases need to be permanently retired?
Q8. Catchphrase contest: Create an all-new HR catchphrase that reflects the 21st century workplace.
If you missed this chat on Feb 1, you can read all the tweets in the RECAP here.