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April 26, 2018 // 1 Comments

Warning: Labels Matter!

Every time I turn around I find another project management guru saying one of the following:

  • Do you have enough resources to staff your project?
  • Make sure you lobby to get the best talent on your team.
  • Your people are your best assets.

While the overall sentiment of these phrases might be accurate… we all want the best team members and adequate resources to complete our project; these phrases completely depersonalize your team and the people who are on it. Essentially, by referring to people as “talent” or “resources” your minimizing that individual to only what they can do for you. That’s the polar opposite of what we as Agile Leaders should be doing. As Agile Leaders, we should be focused on treating people with equal respect and we should always think of team members as people before we think of them as “assets”.

Think about it this way… next time you see someone you love sit down with them and try one of these on for size:

  • “Son, I need to take your resource (mom) out on a date tonight, but don’t worry we have a new talent (babysitter) coming in to take over.”
  • “Honey, you are my best asset; well second only to the dog who never talks back.”
  • “Guys, I am putting together a pickup game this afternoon… you’re top talent… would you like to join my team?”

How do you think these statements would make that person feel? Try it and then ask them if they feel valued as a person.

To get more to the point, let’s review the definition of these words in more detail:

  • Resource“a source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed”– Dictionary.com
  • Talent“a special natural ability or aptitude”– Dictionary.com
  • Asset“a single item of ownership having exchange value”– Dictionary.com

Perhaps you think I am being overly sensitive. They are just labels, right? Whether we want to admit it or not, labels hurt. We are all human beings with feeling and emotions and we all want to feel valued. So, why would we as leaders, jeopardize a good relationship with these depersonalized labels?

As Agile Leaders, I’d like to challenge you to flip-the-script and try some new phrases:

  • “My team is composed of very talented individuals who care about the quality of their work.”
  • “I highly value the contribution of every person on my team.”
  • “I always seek individuals with strong values, moral character, and a strong work ethic for my project.”

Instead of labeling people with “nouns”, try using “adjectives” to describe the qualities that you are either looking for or your team already possesses. This simple shift will put people more at-ease and help you to form better relationships with those that you lead. And it will remind your team members that you recognize and appreciate them as real people.

One Response

  1. Chrissy says:

    Great post Brian! I definitely don’t like the labels “asset” or “resource.” “Talent” doesn’t sound too bad to me, but still not as personal.

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