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.