Semantics, the mirror of you culture

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Swedish academy is the governor of the Swedish language but when you search for the word agile in their online dictionaries you get no hits. I heard it takes twenty years for a new word to get added. Not so agile.

But if you search for the word resource you get hits explaining the meaning as opportunity or way out, often in the context of financial assets. This post is about the words that we can stop using and which to start use instead, so we understand each other better, for instance, the awful word resource.

If someone still call me a resource today in the 21th century I reply “-are you talking to me?”. I am a thinking human being not a pyramid construction worker or a cotton picker. I work here only because I like it and earn money from it, so count me out in your annual report on the same page as servers, licenses and other resources or assets. Yes, I understand it is a culture thing, but change starts with a discussion before the riot. So let’s bury the awful resource word in the context of people.

I recently worked for a company in a agile coaching team. We were 10 agile coaches, or lets say 7-8 wannabees plus me and some others. The ”manager of the pack” was a senior project manager who had worked forever in the company, but now had to reskill as we were moving away from projects. This manager struggled a bit on the semantics, always referring to resources when she meant people. And when she said resource allocation, when she meant committment, is needed to correct her and got a great debate.

At another company with a great culture i worked for three years, and I certainly would have been working there still, if not the People and Culture team had changed name to Human Resources. After a merger with a big international company the new name was a consequence and overnight I transformed from a hard-working self-organized and thinking human being to a simple resource in a long list of other resources. Of course, I quit with this paradigm shift of culture. Was I overreacting of a word? No, It took me nearly a year to understand the values built in the word HR and the reason I quit was the new culture enrolling with the merger and the Human Resource was the logo of this culture.

Semantics, the mirror of your culture”.

/Ove Holmberg

Words are the bits and pieces in our communication and you should think twice before you shine with another three-letter buzzword as well as old school stuff with legacy values built in. What is the message you want everybody to understand? Think of the message you want to convey and use simple understandable language instead. Also make sure the words are aligned with your company culture. Human Resources is a great word for a group of people managing other people but when you want to grow and keep people instead of resources, it is not. Long live People and Culture and remember to onboard them first in your agile implementation. Or even better – let the head of People and Culture become the product owner in this effort and report directly to the board.

Here is my list of words to inspire from and adopt to your company culture. Maybe use them as a pairing game if you mix them and see if you understand each other better?

Don’t useUse instead
ComittmentAligned with and dedicated to expectations
MilestoneCelebration day
Dependency toCollaboration with
AllocationSign up
Stretch goalVision
DoneGood enough
Bottom Up ApproachTeam first strategy
Change requestImprovement/Opportunity
Yearly planDaily release
MVPRiskiest Assumption Test
SilosCross functional teams
EmpowermentEnable pull

So, why did i write this blog post in english if the underlying message is understanding of each other? Swedish should be better, as the reader of this blog is 99% swedish speaking? Sorry, i don’t have the answer on this one. It just came out natural as i work in an international environment. But for you Swedes without any skills in english despite we are #2 in the world in english skills, i have a translation here. Also see my previuos blog post about understanding eachother…in swedish.


Håller du med? Eller inte? Diskutera här...