Enterprise Software

The problem with corporate terminology

In a recent blog, Ramon Padilla, an experienced IT manager, took issue with the term "Human Capital Management." He says it bothers him because it implies that employees are stock, money, or properties. Several people agreed, but several others took issue with his interpretation of the words, saying that, although its name may not be the best it could be, the concept of Human Capital Management is admirable.

I can see both sides. I think it's admirable that someone somewhere is realizing that employees are assets. I believe that some managers need a structured way to make use of that concept. But I also believe that the words we choose to describe something can be detrimental.

Of course, there's the other end of the spectrum. I once had a friend whose position was "VP of People." That has to be the most nebulous title in the world. Was Assistant God the second choice?

The word "subordinates" has always bothered me when referring to one's staff. It probably shouldn't bother me—one definition in the dictionary refers to it as "belonging to a lower rank or order," which is true if you're looking at an org chart. But it makes me uneasy. (By the way, a second definition for subordinate is "subservient or inferior.")

It just sounds elitist to me. It doesn't help that one of the most insufferable egomaniacs I've ever met relished the term. In fact, the promise of being able to toss that word around was probably what fueled this guy's burning desire to become a manager in the first place. Sometimes he softened and used the term "my people." (I think Moses finally got him for copyright infringement.)

I know subordinate has military origins, but the military has its own goals. I read someplace that the purpose of boot camp is to condition soldiers to fulfill all given orders promptly and without questioning, which when you're talking about life and death, makes perfect sense. But I think it's a little extreme in the corporate environment.

And I'm not talking about political correctness. I think that concept has become a parody of itself. (Or maybe I'm just sensitivity-challenged.) No, I'm talking about the expectation that words can bring.

Think about how words can condition our expectations. For example, remember when that thing you slept on was called a mattress? Manufacturers have now raised the price of a box set to astronomical levels, but they can do it because they're marketing it as a sleep system. (For the price they're charging, a sleep system should come with pre-counted sheep and a NyQuil drip.)

But I digress. I guess my point is that if Ramon has an initial aversion to a term, that's his right. And he's probably not the only one. Do you have a term that you don't particularly like?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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