Human Resources



5 things HR should stop saying (and what we can try instead)

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Aditi Sharma Kalra’s list of HR jargon to do away with.

It’s no wonder everyone hates management jargon. The clichés are typically reflective of deep-rooted thinking styles, and often the essence of the idea is lost in communication.

So to get HR professionals to start speaking, and thinking, a little left of the norm, we put together a list of five words, or phrases, that we need to do away with.

1. Thing to stop saying: “You can’t do that.”

“Too often, HR sees itself as a policing function – one that makes sure everyone behaves and follows the rules,” says Dr Peter Allen, VP of people and organisation development at “Unless something is actually illegal, that’s not the best way to go.”

Try this instead: “What’s your goal here? Let me see if I can share some ideas/information/new approaches.” You’d be surprised how much of a difference this can make.

Getting on the same side of the issue as your client will give you far greater influence, explains Allen.

“And encouraging both managers and employees to own policies, rather than just implement them, creates a far more productive environment than just trying to compel everyone to follow the rules.”

2. Thing to stop saying: “There isn’t enough talent in the market.”

Bear with me before you bring out the torches.

There is no doubt that specific technical skills are lacking in Asia, owing to slower industry life cycles compared with developed countries.

There is also no denying that leadership skills are hard to find, especially people experienced in remote working or across Asia’s complex, multi-cultural environments.

But in my view, there is a fair bit of scope for us to rewrite our people processes to accommodate a more diverse pool of candidates – be it part-timers, new mothers or mature workers.

Try this instead: “Let’s recreate some of these job descriptions to attract more candidates.”

Too often, HR sees itself as a policing function – one that makes sure everyone follows the rules. Unless something is actually illegal, that’s not the best way to go.

3. Thing to stop saying: “This is the problem we face.”

“Instead of focusing on ‘problems’ which are naturally present, and the reason why we are hired, we should pay more attention to ‘solutions’,” says Wendy Koo, head of HR and corporate partnerships at Hong Kong-based charity, AIDS Concern.

That’s not to “avoid” the issue, she says, rather, it’s a way to move forward.

Try this instead: Once the immediate issue is addressed, HR in partnership with the management team, must think about how to tackle the issue to change its unsatisfactory status for the long-term, suggests Koo.

4. Thing to stop saying: “We need to find ways to motivate and engage our people.”

“It’s a widely held assumption that engagement is something that happens to people at work – as if companies need to do something to people to cause them to be engaged,” points out Lewis Garrad, managing director of Sirota Asia Pacific.

“But a lot of science shows the vast majority of people are naturally motivated – they want to contribute to the best of their ability from the start.”

He cites that when new employees are asked about this, more than 90% say they are motivated to go above and beyond to help their organisation succeed.

“The remaining 5% to 10% probably shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.”

Following the first 30 days, motivation of new hires often diminishes very quickly and as many as one in four feel differently by the end of the first year.

Adds Garrad: “The challenge then is not raising the motivation of people in the workplace, but rather to find a way to maintain the natural enthusiasm that people bring to work. Rather than trying to motivate them, we need to stop demotivating them.”

Try this instead: “What are we doing that gets in the way of engagement and performance?”

It’s a widely held assumption that engagement is something that happens to people at work – as if companies need to do something to people to cause them to be engaged.

5. Thing to stop saying: “Time for some training.”

This is a pet peeve of Agoda’s Allen. “Training is good when you want someone to do something automatically, without thinking. It’s necessary for soldiers, pilots, dogs.”

But most of the time at work, we should not be “training” people – instead, we should be helping them learn, he points out. “Using the word ‘learning’ puts the emphasis not on the trainer, but on the learner; it helps employees become autonomous, curious, empowered.”

Try this instead: Turn your focus around: change your language, and see how it changes your attitude and makes L&D more effective.

What’s your take on this? We’d love to add more phrases to this list from your experiences – share your suggestions with us in the comments below!

Image: Shutterstock

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Aditi Sharma Kalra

Human Resources Magazine Singapore
When not spending her time eating or watching dog videos, Aditi loves to read, write, and tweet about HR. She is managing print, digital and social content for Human Resources, across Singapore and Malaysia.

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