I keep saying ‘we’
Essentially what I did in any of those four jobs is exactly the same as what I do now. But when you are acting ‘as’ an organisation you are never really ‘I’. The client doesn’t engage you, they engage the organisation you work for. You are the organisation you work for. You represent them, for good or for bad. The organisation gets the credit for your success and would take the hit on any failures. You are disposable. If you are sick or you quit or you mess up they might take you off a project and seamlessly replace you with someone else. Your work is never really your own. You won’t see your own name on any report that you write. It is never about you.
Sounds a bit brutal. I never saw it as brutal. It is actually quite nice. You are part of a team. You are part of a bigger organism. You are supported.
I worked for TNS – a big global brand – and they were all about the brand image and brand values. As employees we were required (as part of our appraisal for example) to demonstrate that we ‘lived the brand’. That just means that we were supposed to act as TNS and each of us was the face of TNS and should behave as such and be very conscious of that. It hammered home, regularly, that we were all part of a great big team.
I also worked for MORI – another big global brand – for my first job. One of my earliest work memories was an occasion where I made a small error in my work that was important enough to need reporting back to the client and correcting. My big boss let the client know that we had made an error. We. MORI – a huge global brand – had made an error. Not me. My boss had my back and we were a team. This had a profound impact on me, and I hope I’ve passed it forward when I’ve been a manager.
Because, although it can all appear a bit faceless on the surface talking as ‘we’ is often a good thing for everyone in the team, no matter how junior or senior you are.
“Here’s what we could do for you, here’s what we plan for the project, here’s what we did, here’s what we recommend.”
It recognises the involvement and importance of everyone that has worked on a project. It is inclusive. It is collaborative. It is warm and fuzzy.
And it is good brand management.
Problem for me is that all this brand stuff, all this team stuff, all this inclusivity – it has stuck.
I’ve noticed of late that when I’m talking about my work I keep saying ‘we’.
“We evaluated a project, and we did ten depth interviews, and we presented it at a conference…” that sort of thing.
But these days it is just me. Ruthless Research is just me. If there is work to be done, I do it. On my own. My work, my responsibility. ‘We’ is me. I am ‘we’.
I’m not trying to mislead anybody by talking up the scale of my enterprise, talking as ‘we’ is really just habit.
Do I need to change?
I think not, but perhaps I need to readjust my language a little to be clear that ‘we’ is ‘me and my clients’.
Because consultancy projects are all about teamwork and collaboration and inclusivity and warm and fuzzy stuff too.