“Staff,” “Employees,” Or “Team Members”: Why Language Matters

Are you struggling with a lack of alert, curious, responsive, and resourceful people in your business? Here, Shannon Waller takes a look at the frequently overlooked importance of the language you use when talking about the people operating in your business. By shifting your mindset regarding this one term, you can unlock the full potential of your team and elevate their performance. Tune in to learn how to transform your team into a powerhouse of unique individuals making impactful contributions together.

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Show Notes:

  • The language you use to refer to the people you’ve hired to work with you (“staff,” “employees,” or “team members”) reflects different mindsets and can impact engagement and performance.
  • The term “staff” suggests bureaucracy, formality, and viewing people as fulfilling roles rather than as unique and creative individuals.
  • “Employee” is more neutral but can still imply a transactional, replaceable view of team members.
  • Referring to people as “team members” emphasizes their unique contributions and the collaborative, team-based nature of the work.
  • How you think about your people is reflected in your actions.
    • “Staff” and “employees” are frequently counted as FTEs and costs.
    • Businesses think of costs as something to minimize, to make as efficient as possible, and to be cut as necessary to improve profits.
    • People who are treated as costs—like the office paper supply—can feel they’re being treated as things and not as people.
  • Treating team members as investments rather than costs leads to better results.
    • With investments, you put a little in to get a lot more in return.
    • When you nourish unique capabilities in people, their contributions expand in ways you could not have predicted.
  • When people don’t work out as investments:
    • Have you made sure you’ve found the right people who are motivated by their work and aligned with your business?
    • Do they have the capacity for their role?
    • Keeping bad investments is not good for your business in the long term. You may need to subtract so you can multiply.
  • Dan Sullivan says, “I’m just a team member here. I just have a unique set of skills, and that’s what I want to do. I need a ton of other people to make the projects that I want to be a part of happen.”
  • Dan’s commitment to his own Unique Ability® contribution to the business reinforces his commitment to supporting the Unique Ability contributions of everyone else on his team.
  • Ask your team how they feel about the language used to describe them. Pay attention to how you refer to people no matter whom you’re speaking with.
  • People want to know they’re valued as individuals and trusted to find opportunities to contribute the best way they know how.


Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute

EOS®: Entrepreneurial Operating System®

“A Conversation With Kathy Kolbe: Conative Intelligence & The Importance of Caring First,” Team Success Podcast, ep. 259.

Multiplication By Subtraction by Shannon Waller

Unique Ability