Erica Pinsky



 available as a PODCAST

What's in a Word?

2Paths (www.2paths.com) is a small Vancouver based technology company. Like many other tech firms, it started in 2002 with an idea and a bunch of friends working together doing what they loved. As often happens, passion produced profit, and 2Paths grew. And, as also often happens, with growth, came some growing pains.

New staff came on board. New titles and a new structure, more reflective of a traditional hierarchy, were adopted. Founder Aaron Gladders became the CEO. The unintended and unanticipated result was culture change. A subtle division within the team emerged; the all too familiar “us and them” mentality. Rather than one big us, some were now “management” and others “employees.”

The first thing that struck me at my recent visit to 2Paths Kitsilano office was its size. There are 12 employees, significantly smaller than many corporate teams I have worked with. Surely it wouldn’t make a difference if you were “management” or not in such a small office. But it seems that the term alone was enough to start the shift in the culture. It was a change that no one was happy about. The company wanted growth, but not at the cost of their relationship based team culture.

To preserve that culture they decided to take a step back, look at their business model and evaluate the true purpose of the management team. They concluded that managers were there to support the development team and they wanted their title to reflect that. Management employees at 2Paths are now referred to as the support crew. “Like the folks rallying behind Lance Armstrong or Terry Fox in the support minivan. Anything they need to function better at their jobs - you name it, we do it,” Judi Wannamaker, Chief Market Relationship Engineer advised me.

Cirque du Soleil was started in 1984 by two street performers, and has grown to an organization of more than 3500 employees. Although there is an ongoing need for recruitment and training of both staff and performers, you won’t hear anyone at Cirque using those terms. Recruitment is referred to as Treasure Hunting. Training is called Creative Transformation.

What’s in a word? History, images, concepts and emotions. Management is traditionally about controlling, planning, directing, leading or organizing. Support is about helping, providing back up, keeping something, or someone upright and functioning as intended. An obvious difference is how power is expressed through these terms. If I am managing you, my power can be used to control you. If I am supporting you, I use my power to empower you.

As I teach in my book Road to Respect; Path to Profit, culture building is a deliberate and strategic process. Organizational terms, titles and practices can create community and cohesion or divisiveness and separation. Which would you prefer to promote in your corporate culture?


"In her book, Erica provides a wake-up call for employers by detailing why respect, as a core value, is so imperative. She then provides a persuasive argument why organizations should embark on the road map to respect. Particularly compelling are her personal workplace anecdotes as well as the case studies featuring some of the largest companies in Canada, who are getting respect right."

Melanie Sklarz
Diversity and Respect Coordinator
Edge Learning of Ohio RespectfulWorkplace.com