What is the Pronoun Used at Your Company?

by Michael Haberman on September 2, 2011 · 4 comments

You may look at that title and thing “how does the question “what is the pronoun used at your company?’ apply to human resource?” (First, for those of you that can’t quite remember what a pronoun is in English the are I, you, he, she, it, we, and they. To quote Sean Connery’s character in The Untouchables “here endth the lesson.”)

The use of pronouns turns out to be a very good lesson in HR because it is a way to judge the character of your company. At least according to Robert Reich. Reich, for those of you who find the name unfamiliar,  is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.  He has written thirteen books on labor and employment topics. He is a frequent speaker and appears often on news shows weighing in on the state of the labor market. He is a very intelligent man and seems very likeable. He also blogs on labor and employement. According to Daniel Pink, in Drive, Reich gauges the health of an organization using what he calls the “pronoun test.” When he visits a workplace he asks the employees questions about their work. In addition to listening to their answers he also pays attention to the words they use. He listens to see if they use “we” or “they” in describing how things are done. To Reich “they” companies are very different from “we” companies, the implication being that “we” is where you want to be.

I generally don’t agree with Reich. But in this particular case he is spot on. Listening to the pronouns your employees use in describing their work and their company will give you a good picture of the health of your company. If you hear “we” alot you are more likely to have happier, more productive and more effective employees and thus happier customers. If you hear “they” alot you will have the opposite. And you will also have an environment that is most likely to be far more accepting of union overtures. So pay attention to what you hear.

Oh there is one other thing that Reich and I agree on. He doesn’t appear to think our current president is a very strong one. Hmmmm…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

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