Personnel vs Personal : A Mindset that can make a World of Difference

Personnel vs Personal : A Mindset that can make a World of Difference

By Dr. Arron Grow, Associate Program Director for Organizational Leadership

The Difference Between Personnel and People

In my research into what helps leaders stands apart, one of the topics that most consistently rises to the top has to do with people in charge knowing the difference between personnel and people. This is a summarizing way of what I mean by knowing the difference between personnel and people. People are people; beings that have thoughts, ideas, emotions, preference, and all the other elements that go along with being human. Personnel is the office within an organization that manages the people-related stuff. The gist of the matter is this; leaders who treat their people as property are not effective. Leaders who treat their people as people are much more effective leaders. No surprises in this, but let’s go into a bit more detail about this anyway.

What impact does treating employees like personnel have on a team? If you’ve ever had a person as a boss who does this, you know what the impact is. Even if you haven’t been in this situation, you can guess the result, and you’d be right. Insulting, demoralizing, maddening, annoying are just a few of the adjectives that come from the voices of those that have endured this situation. Obviously, none of them are flattering and none of these feelings lead to heightened productivity.


What does lead to better productivity? Treating subordinates like people. Here are a few suggestions that can help make this happen.

  1. Learn about your team members: How do good leaders learn about their people? They have conversations with them. Regular, around the water cooler chat about whatever seems natural, off-work activities, family stuff, hobbies, community events – whatever makes sense. The goal is not to become their friend. That has its own set of challenges so minding that boundary is important. The goal is instead to simply learn what’s important to them. Knowing this, leaders have a better chance of connecting with their team members to influence as leaders must to be most effective. The age-old adage still applies; people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
  2. Keep team members informed: When information is coming down from on high let team members know what that information is. When organizational events are happening, ensure team members know are aware of them. When changes must occur, say as much as can be said. Hint: Because I said so is not an explanation. That may work with a child (and even then only for a time), but it most definitely will not foster engaged, productive team members.
  3. Ask for input: This may seem obvious but my research suggests this is one of the least used tools in the leadership toolbox. When an idea is put before the team, ask team members for their reactions – and mean it! In group settings it can sometimes be difficult to get everyone to open up. No problem, ask team members to provide their input by email. As that everyone give input. This practice accomplishes two purposes – you get a more balanced view of things and your team members know that you value their input.

Applying these three practices in a consistent matter can help leaders in all industries be more effective in their roles. If you find yourself holding back on any of these strategies, I recommend giving them more of a chance and see what difference it makes.

Published November 17, 2015



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