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How you describe what your team does…impacts what your team does…

steeleToday’s business insight comes from George “The Animal” Steele.

  • (That may be the most unlikely sentence I’ve ever written in my blogging history.)

I’m driving on the Interstate last night, flipping channels on Sirius/XM.  On one of the sports channels, there was a discussion about WWE’s termination of Hulk Hogan over profoundly offensive comments that he made regarding race.  As I’m listening to this show I’ve stumbled upon, the hosts took a call — it seems Steele was also in the audience, and wanted add his two cents to the conversation.

I’d heard his name, but I was not familiar with the career of the wrestler.  As I discovered when I looked him up, not only did he have a long career in the ring, he also played a role in the Tim Burton film, “Ed Wood,” with Johnny Depp.

  • Steele said that what Hogan had said was simply a result of a change in the culture of the locker room over the years in wrestling.  And, he said, he could boil it all down to two words.

Obviously, the outcomes of wrestling matches are scripted in advance.  Therefore, part of the job of the wrestler selected to lose the match is to make the victor look as good as possible.  This is called, as Steele explained, taking your opponent and “putting him over” in the match.

The problem, Steele explained, was that over the years the term used to describe the match’s loser changed — and not for the best.

In the early days of his career, Steele said the wrestler putting the winner over was called, “the constructor.”

The reason was that if he did a good job making the winner look good, he was helping that wrestler build (construct) a better career.

Therefore, there was a great camaraderie in the locker room — those who were constructors were treated respectfully by the others, because it built the culture that all wrestlers were there to help and support one another.

Then, he said, something changed.  The terminology for the loser in the matches became “jobber.”  As in, “You go out there and do your job — make the other guy look good.”

  • Now, putting the other wrestler over wasn’t helping construct a career — it was just doing your job for someone else who was perceived as your superior.

What do you supposed happened?  How would this simple change impact how the way that the constructor/jobber felt about his job?  How would the winner of the match feel about the other participant as a “jobber” versus a “constructor.”

Steele’s point was that he felt — within the wrestling locker room — that the total respect for your colleague kept racism out.  When the terminology changed, the respect declined, and Hogan’s comments were emblematic of that change in attitude.

I found that fascinating.  Sure, it’s easy to say it’s just semantics.  And, I’m not suggesting that it’s a silver bullet that explains everything with a solitary answer that’s a panacea to the problem.

However, Steele’s insight started me to thinking about the difference between “employees” and “team members” or “associates.”

I recalled a flight attendant talking about a merger many years ago, and how surprised she was at what the bigger airline called their customers: “grunts.”  They called them that because of how the passenger would grunt when putting their luggage in the overhead.  She said at her airline — the one that had been acquired — they called them “paychecks.”  What do you suppose happened to the airline that changed customers from “paychecks” to “grunts”?

  • Hint: they’re not flying anymore.

Undoubtably, you’ve got a lot to do this week.

However, taking a moment to examine your terminology and what you call your colleagues and customers — and reflecting on its impact on your corporate culture — would be a very valuable way to spend a bit of your time.

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More Stories By Scott McKain

Scott McKain is a business leader, bestselling author, and Hall of Fame professional speaker.
Scott's latest book, "The Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails" reached the #1 spot on Amazon.com list of Customer Service Bestsellers! He is the author of two #1 additional business bestsellers (Amazon.com & 800-CEO-READ): "What Customers REALLY Want" (currently available in trade paperback) and "ALL Business is Show Business."
He is the Co-founder and Principal of The Value Added Institute, a think-tank that examines the role of the customer experience in creating significant advances in the level of client loyalty, and has appeared on multiple occasions as a commentator and analyst on FOX News Channel. His platform presentations have run the gamut from the White House lawn with the President in the audience carried live on CNN and NBC's "Today" show...to a remote outpost near the Amazon...all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces...and from Singapore to Sweden...Mexico to Morocco.
An inductee into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, he is also a member of "Speakers Roundtable" -- an elite, invitation-only group of twenty of the world's top business speakers.