Throughout my working life one of the words, which is most often used by employers, that really irks me is the word staff.
For the longest time I didn’t really understand why, then two things happened.
Firstly I worked with a former accountant called Jonathan Holroyd, who not only shared my irritation but went on to share with me a brilliant analogy of the word staff.
You see going back through history an early definition of the word ‘staff’ related to an item used by a shepherd while tending sheep. Even today a ‘staff’ has two uses.
Either it gives you a longer “arm” and reach, by holding out the staff in your outstretched arm you block them off and steer them in the direction you want them to go. Or alternatively it is used to catch sheep that for example you need to treat, by hooking the staff around one of the back feet and lifting it up so that the sheep is leaning all its weight on its other three feet, so it can’t run away.
Both uses of the traditional staff to me imply that you need to hold them at arms-length, or drag your employees along which shouldn’t be the case in any business. But there is also another reason that a business owner using staff to describe their employees puts me on alert.
You see what I also find in many businesses where the word staff is used, is that it is symptomatic of a wider issue. That there is a ‘them and us’ mentality, where the business owner is ‘in charge’ and they ‘manage’ the employees who have to simply follow their rules, or way of doing things.
My second realisation came from the time I spent studying for my degree in Business Management. Within all of the research around leadership, motivation and engagement the learning was that the best approach to have the best results at engaging your people and getting the best from them was to ‘lead’ and not ‘manage’.
Instead I am a firm advocate of the word team and my work now is all about helping professional service firms to develop their teams.
The word team suggests that everyone is working together willingly to achieving the businesses mission and vision.
Doesn’t that sound more fun?
Of course it will also make your life as a business owner and/or manager of people easier.
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