Manager; staff and other dodgy designer labels

What’s in a label, eh? Well, quite a lot it would appear.

One of the games we play when running workshops with executives is rather unimaginatively titled ‘The Manager Game’. The title may be modest but its aims are lofty as we look to deconstruct misconceptions and challenge the prevailing culture and status quo.

In short, two groups are created by picking people at random and they are then sent to different rooms in the same building. Team A is given a brief titled ‘Managers’. The rest are given exactly the same brief but titled ‘Staff Briefing’. They are both set the same simple exercise, such as introducing a hot-desking policy, re-organisation or preparing for a VIP visit.

Without fail, the management group of people lock themselves away and fret over ensuring they have a strategy, plan, project outline and roles and responsibilities. The staff, however, usually do nothing but muck about and play games until paranoia and boredom sets in, at which point they usually set out to find the managers with the aim of solving the problem together.

So what’s the point?

Well there are many but what always stands out is the way people suddenly start behaving differently as soon as you pin a label on them.

Reflect for a second on what it feels like to be called “back office” or even “burden” (yes it happens!) on the organisation chart. What does it mean to be singled out as a so-called brand champion and what does that imply for those who aren’t named if you aren’t trying to create a general champion culture? Most importantly, how helpful is it to be given the title of manager or leader if no-one invests the time and development effort to help you explore your strengths and improvement areas or unpack the opportunities, expectations and responsibilities that come with the tag?

A small point – but much food for thought for those bearing the labels of HR generalists, OD specialists, L&D professionals; marketers and the so-called brand development functions alike.

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