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Anne Allen, Director of People Experience at Xero

It’s now a well-known fact amongst companies and business leaders that the creation of opportunities and paths for career progression is key to business success, whether that’s measured financially or culturally. People-centric thinking is (finally) being recognised as an imperative to providing a great service – no matter what industry you’re in – helping a business to innovate and thrive. After all, as Richard Branson says: “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

What’s amazing to me, though, is that the word “staff” still proliferates among these aspirational and sensible notions. Just stop for a second and think how pervasive the word staff is in your everyday business conversations: business leaders talk often about staff pay; staff benefits; staff surveys; staff engagement; the need to hire new staff and so on.

Staff is a word that needs to disappear from the language we use in the office or workplace. It’s an impersonal, hierarchical, old-fashioned noun that’s too ‘Downton Abbey’ and limits an organisation’s ability to inspire passion and innovation in people.

When you consider the people who work for you as an amorphous group of staff, you’re nominalising them. That makes it even harder for you to engage or energize them to do the best work of their lives. All managers or business owners want to attract and employ people who have a truly personal and individual link to the organisation. To lump them together as a collective, as your “staff”, is a lazy generalisation that needs to stop.

Encourage your business, instead, to focus on talking about team members or people, instead of staff. Start talking about “our people” instead of referencing “the staff”. Concentrate on building out people’s skills and career progression with an individualised plan for each one, rather than catch-all staff training.

It’s that kind of focus on people within your business that will lead to innovation, creativity, and a passion from your team. At the end of the day, to build the best possible company, one that’s scalable and in which everyone loves to participate (as customers or employees), your focus needs to be on your people – always.

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