Corporate Misnomers

“Nomen est Omen”, a name is like a sign, taught already the Old Romans. And true, a name is a sign, a name defines, a name sets minds. Becoming parents spend months on finding an appropriate name for their yet unborn, believing that the name will impact the character, personality and even destiny of their child. In daily life however, we use terms rather carelessly, not considering the impact they might have. A misnomer is a misleading name or inaccurate description. Since “nomen est omen” – a name is like a sign, a “misnomen” is like a warning sign. Language impacts our thinking and behaviour and hence our results. We should therefore be careful with the names we use as they signify how we think and act. Here is a list of corporate misnomers I would like to debunk: Work-Life-Balance, Human Resource Management, Conflict Management, Talent Management, War for Talent.

  • Work-Life-Balance: By definition, a balance is an either-or-choice. While ‘work-life-balance’ suggests that we either work or have a life, we in fact have a lot of work in our private life and hopeful some life at work. While I applaud new suggestions such as work-life-integration or work-life-harmony, I would run with just ‘Life Harmony’. A life in harmony is the source for happiness, contentment and effectiveness. Instead of balancing or integrating professional and private life, we should strive to bring our whole life into harmony, professionally and privately, looking at all aspects such as workloads and errands to run, our diet and exercise regime or all the different roles we play in life – just to name a view. If you say ‘work-life-balance’ you are caught in a balancing act. Say ‘life harmony’ and start to bring all that you think, say and do into harmony.
  • Human Resource Management: This is a double misnomer – and unfortunately a highly used one. By definition, a ‘resource’ is an input factor that can be acquired and disposed at any point of time. While this may be true for machines and materials, this does not apply for people. Resources are expenses, people are investments. Adding the term ‘management’ does not add any good. The term ‘management’ is derived from the Latin word “manus”, meaning the hand. From the time the term ‘management’ has been introduced into business, it was literally linked to ‘lying hands on’, i.e. controlling – with micromanagement being the extreme form of control. Leadership on the other hand, is about guidance, development, inclusion and empowerment. While many Human Resource (HR) departments start to change their names to ‘People & Culture’, ‘Employees Success’ or just ‘Talent’, I would vote to replace ‘Human Resource Management’ (which is literally translated as ‘controlling people like an input factor’) with ‘Human Capital Leadership’. Manage things responsibly, lead people respectfully.
  • Conflict Management: Now that we have defined the origins of ‘management’, this term becomes easier. Since a conflict is generally a problem, you actually control a problem by saying ‘conflict management’. While ‘crucial situation moderation’ or ‘crucial conversation’ are surely better terms, they still don’t address the people component sufficiently. I would therefore suggest using ‘Coaching People’. ‘Coaching People’ involves empathic listening and questioning in order to derive a solution together. ‘Coaching people’ does not only get you out of a conflict situation much faster, it may avoid the conflict in the first place.
  • Talent Management: While you can control ‘talent management programs’, i.e. the systems and processes required to provide inspiring programs for talents, we should not have the mindset of managing (aka controlling) talents per se. Instead, consider ‘Talent Development’ or ‘Talent Excitement’. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all Talent Development Program. Fortunately, you can Inspire Truly Individual Talent Development once you Develop the Inspiration of the True Talent in each Individual. The best Talent Program is therefore the one whereby each Leader acts as a Coach, bringing out the best in each person while choosing the position they take toward people over the position they hold within the organization. On that notion, ensure you have your talents clearly defined. For instance, does your talent program address the high potentials, the career fast tracks or every employee?
  • War for Talent: Bringing ‘war’ and ‘talent’ into one name doesn’t go down well with me. More importantly, there are no winners in a war as even the winner has to count a lot of losses. Even using softer synonyms for ‘war’ such as ‘fight’ does not change it much. Are we having a fight in the first place? If companies were able to retain their talents better, things could ease substantially and immediately. And with more people staying, the employer brand increases, which in turn makes talent attraction easier – and thankfully we moved already from ‘talent acquisition’ to ‘talent attraction’ as we would have another misnomer here. Many independent and different studies conclude two main reasons for employee attrition: A bad boss in particular or poor leadership in general as well as the lack of development opportunities. Hence, move from ‘War for Talent’ to ‘Talent Retention’ and ensure appropriate training of the leadership team as well as individual development plans for the people. And I belief Sir Richard Branson agrees by saying “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they stay”, with apologies for this overused quote, but at the end this is what talent retention is all about.


Thus, be aware of your corporate lingo. Consider that what we say sets minds, mindsets lead to behaviours and behaviours create results. If you want better results, create a better language.

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