Words Are For Suckers

scrabble me baby

Words mean everything and nothing. Actions however, always mean something. Always.

We tell people we love them when clearly we don”t. We dole out praise to mediocre employees when we don”t really mean it. We talk about corporate values when we don

“t have any. We talk too much. We use words to emphasize misguided points of view. Truth is, we use words in all kinds of unintended ways…

I think we”re so addicted to talking at people that we”ve forgotten how to really treat people well. Meaning, our words are good enough. I told you I loved you… I don”t have to actually show you that I love you… do I? Well, yeah… that”s kind of the point. Words have become all-powerful and actions seem like an afterthought and/or a nice to have. Well, that”s effed.

We live in a world where phrases or catch phrases have a life of their own with no tethering to actions. We”ve seemed to have lost the ability to be critical about words… to hold people to what they do rather than what they say. To highlight what I’m jabbering on about… let”s evaluate two popular phrases… and separate the words from the actions.

“Please Drink Responsibly”

Let”s be honest here… one of the goals of drinking is to act irresponsible… to say inappropriate things, to do inappropriate things, etc. For example, dancing on a table at Dick’s Last Resort doling out napkins while only wearing a T-Shirt. Whew, memories. The good folks that make and distribute spirits (beer, wine and liquor) know this. In fact they really want you to drink and misbehave. The truth is… if you have a boring @$$ time drinking their stuff… you probably won”t remember it in a positive way. That vodka… meh… it was kinda okay. The 12 Patrón Tequila shots I had… man, that s#*t was awesome. The underlying behaviors are at odds with what they say they want from you… the consumer. Please drink responsibly is complete horses#*t. They don”t mean it… and if our society wasn”t so in love with suing everyone or everything the phrase itself wouldn”t exist. In fact, they would market the truth. Drink our stuff and create compelling awkward memories. And to those that drink for the taste… stop lying to yourself and those around you. Everyone that drinks… drinks to get drunk. Get over it.

“My Tweets Are My Own”

If you have this in your Twitter profile… you are either: (1) naive (2) stupid, (3) crazy or, (4) drunk. Not that I know more about Twitter than you but… in this day and age… you should delete that claim from your profile. It makes you look silly. If you work for someone else… your words, regardless of medium AND your actions need to be aligned with the values of the brand you work for. Period. If your values don”t align or won”t align, then you should: (1) work for someone else, (2) go back to school, (3) grow the eff up, (4) work for yourself, etc. Adding a pseudo-legal phrase to your Twitter profile is amateurish. And, quite frankly, it won”t protect you one bit. If you tweet something stupid your employer will still use it against you (directly or indirectly). Some of my best friends have this phrase carved in their Twitter profile and it makes me cry each and every time I see it. Sorry for the tough love dudes. Get over it.

Now, what does any of this have to do with HR… simple… I think we need to help our organizations with the alignment of what we say AND what we do… meaning, the reconciliation of words and actions. Our words need to mean something and HR can play a pivotal role in making this happen. Now, I don’t want us to be the words and actions police. That’s not my intent. I think we need to live this NOT police this. We need to be beacons of alignment in our organization. In doing that, in holding ourselves to a higher standard we can help others do the same.

A simple phrase that helps me stay grounded with this is… “mean what you say, say what you mean / mean what you do, do what you mean.” I should have it tattooed somewhere on my body but alas I don”t.

Do me a favor… take a week and just observe your organization and the words that are commonly used… in meetings, one on one conversations, conference calls, etc… tally the words. Now, juxtapose that list of words against the actions of your firm. Do you feel like words and actions of your organization are completely aligned? If not, then think critically about where the misalignment(s) might be. And slowly start to repair those.

Misalignment didn”t happen overnight and neither will alignment. But, most of what we do in HR can be tracked back to what we told employees (candidates) and what we did for employees (candidates). So, fix yo s#*t. And, by that I mean, do something.

FOT Background Check

William Tincup
WILLIAM TINCUP, SPHR. William is the CEO of HR consultancy Tincup & Co. William is one of the country’s leading thinkers on social media application for human resources, an expert on adoption of HR technology and damn fine marketer. William has been blogging about HR related issues since 2007. He’s a contributor to Fistful of Talent, HRTechEurope and HRExaminer and also co-hosts a daily HR podcast called DriveThruHR. Tweet him @williamtincup and check him out on Facebook and LinkedIn. Not up to speed in the social media game? Reach out via email. William serves on the Board of Advisors for Insynctive, Causecast, Work4Labs, PeopleReport, Jurify, TrackMaven, SocialEars, AppLearn, StrengthsInsight, The Workforce Institute, PeopleMatter, SmartRecruiters, Ajax Workforce Marketing and is a 2013 Council Member for The Candidate Experience Awards. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Chequed and is a startup mentor for Acceleprise. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama of Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned a MA from the University of Arizona and a MBA from Case Western Reserve University.

18 Comments

  1. Dawn Passaro says:

    Pithy. Jarringly true to the bone. I wish this was as easy to do as it is to say!

    Reply
  2. Frank Zupan says:

    Great post William.

    Reply
  3. Suzanne Rumsey says:

    Impact ALWAYS whacks intent. Words = intent. Action ==> impact. Words, when they don’t match action, have bad impact. Say less, and walk the talk. Exactly.

    Reply
  4. This made me laugh! The “comments are my own” statement is certainly pointless, you are right. Funny post!

    Reply
  5. Jim Fox says:

    I want to say, “thank you for your spot-on, challenging feedback.” Or do I!?!

    Reply
  6. Thaddeus Figlock says:

    The second phrae fits perfectly with the first. The ad guy would love to create the ad showing the wild acts fueled by the impossibly great vodka with no caveat except for, maybe, stay alive to buy more tomorrow. But orders from the company is to add the disclaimer. Yes, “these tweets are my own” will not protect the tweeter. They are there to ease the mind of the boss. If I say anything you are uncomfortable with, you can distance yourself from me. It is not enough for the boss to know he can fire me. He wants to tell anyone ticked off, oh we didn’t mean anything, it was that rogue tweeter. Isn’t it a question of control/freedom as much as alignment?

    Reply
  7. David Cabrera says:

    Congrats on this piece! First time I read you and look forward to reading more, I mean it! Now let´s see if I can make it happen! :)

    Reply
  8. Effed is a word? I looked it up on the internet and it must be a word.

    Your words on alignment ring true – does that mean your a bell ringer?

    But yes, there are times when silence is priceless and we all should exercise our right to remain silient more often.

    Reply
  9. Amy Mcdonald says:

    I just noticed the “My opinions are my own, ” recently. I thought, “Who do they think they are kidding?”
    I’ll admit, it is scary to put yourself out there as a transparent online presence when the world associates you with your company, especially if you hold a position of responsibility. I’ve struggled with it myself. It causes me to actually stop and think before I open my big mouth publicly, and especially on the web. Great post, William. I hate clichés but this one really screams the old “lead by example” out to me.

    Reply
  10. Christopher Curran says:

    Amen Brother – great post

    Reply
  11. tiffany says:

    So funny and so true. Now I’m going to need to be aware of what I’m saying often and see if I’m saying it just to talk, or because it is genuine. Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Ur a regular Chomsky over there.

    To be sure, I dont tell people I love them when clearly I don’t. I dont dole out praise to mediocre employees when I dont really mean it. Hell I praise them for BEING mediocre, as you know ;-) I dont talk about corporate values we don’t have, but then again, we hire for character so we dont need to talk about values much at all.

    Talking too much? Yea, you got me.

    As to words / actions- Just as words are what thoughts are made of, they are what wishes are made of too. When a culture grows dependent on wishful and magical thinking, It may be the thing you are trying to describe. People come to believe that their words and the words of authority will create reality, but of course its the other way around…..

    Dreams on the other hand can be (often are) wordless.

    Reply
  13. Sam Parker says:

    Loved this article… Tried to show that love with actions by writing about, and linking to it on our blog! We do use WordPress though, so maybe that doesn’t count?

    Reply
  14. Casey Kugler says:

    That phrase is a bit too long for an adequate tattoo, methinks. That being said, good message, now if I could only find some more time to do things instead of say them, we’d be set. :(

    Reply
  15. William my comments are my own. You are so right as most of the other commenter has said.

    A giant retailer that says they have my best interest at hand, or the drug company that wants me to go to my doctor and tell him I need a certain medication. It’s all crap, and you have called them out.

    Nice work Mr. Tincup!

    Reply

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