Posted on July 7, 2008 by Dennis Snow
The CEO letter at the beginning of almost every company's annual report will include the statement, "Our employees are our most valuable asset." That is a true statement - our employees are the organization's most valuable asset. But just saying it isn't what makes it true. Through their behaviors, leaders must demonstrate that their employees are truly valued.
So, here is a pet peeve. I can't stand it when leaders refer to their employees as "headcount." I don't know for sure, but it's likely that the term came from the cattle industry. Headcount = how many of head of cattle on the ranch. And even if that's not where the term comes from; it sounds like it.
As I waited in the audience to present a customer service speech at a company's annual retreat, I had the opportunity to hear one of the company's senior executives give the audience a state-of-the-company speech. It was a good talk except for the fact that he kept calling the employees "headcount." And all of the employees were in the audience to hear it. "We have x number of headcount this year," "We're going to have to reduce some headcount next year," "We've got manage our headcount carefully," etc, etc.
I believe that when we talk about people in a certain way, we start thinking about them in the same way. If we talk about our people as simply headcount, we naturally start thinking about them as numbers. And pretty soon we start treating them as numbers. "Reducing headcount" is simply a sanitized, clinical way of saying, "We're taking away the livelihood of some of our people." Circumstances may necessitate a layoff, but I believe the boardroom conversation is quite different when the focus is on how a layoff will impact real people and not simply on how a layoff will improve the "headcount."
Click here to read an article I wrote titled, "Invisibility." It discusses some of the leadership behaviors that make employees feel invisible and therefore unvalued.
Think about how invisible, unvalued employees treat customers. Beyond the fact that treating our people well is the right thing to do, it makes good business sense to respect those who serve our customers.
They're not headcount - they're people.