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How to hack your talent language

By Greg Barnett, PhD

Engaging your workforce and building your culture is as simple as hacking your talent language

Are you tired of trying the same old tactics for engaging your workforce, building your culture, and finding ways for people to just get along? Do you find that the old techniques just aren’t moving the needle enough? It’s time for you to hack your talent language.

The concept of hacking your talent language is a simple one. It is the purposeful act of providing your employees, managers, and leaders with a vocabulary for thinking about, interacting with, and ultimately understanding people in the organization.

The premise dates back to theories of linguistic relativity which put forward the idea that language affects its speaker’s cognition or world view. And while the true impact of language on cognition has been debated for decades, there are plenty in the talent world who have seen the power for themselves. 

Workplace_culture.jpgLook to Google if you want a basic example of this in practice. They have a term called Googliness, which refers to “the intangibles that set a person aside from the rest of the pack.” The ability to explore the limits of one’s own creativity and the self-motivation to consistently do so without exterior influences.” Even though this word is made up, it is language that has a clear impact on how Google thinks about employees and how employees work with each other.  

The good news is that you don’t have to be Google to start hacking your talent language. You simply need to find your own language to help people understand each other better, in terms of things like drives, motivations, values, personality tendencies, and uniqueness.  

One way to get started is to use an assessment as the foundation of your talent language hack. Start simple with something that is easy to learn yet still scientifically valid. Simple because if you are going to start hacking then you need to find a language that is easy for the masses to remember, understand, and put to use. Don’t get fooled by tools that give too much information and lengthy reports.  Nobody will read them and fewer will incorporate them into their lexicon. You want people to understand themselves and others better, and part of a successful hack means using them for talent management decision-making.

Once you have your assessment in hand there are a lot of ways to start making the language a part of everyday organizational life. Use them for selection, as a management tool, for teambuilding, to create better alignment between people and roles, employee development, and even leadership coaching. Spend a little money to train people on how to interpret the results and provide tools for them to put the assessment and its language to work for all of these various purposes. Finally, find ways to build comfort around the results so that they are discussed and even displayed in public.


The language hack will take some time to take hold, but the end result can be something powerful.  Stephen Covey once said, “The greatest need of a human being is to be understood, validated and appreciated.” Imagine the exponential effect of building a talent language designed to do just that at an organizational scale. Your business will have a collective self-awareness that will drive up engagement, increase teamwork, improve relationships, foster open communication, and give your company an unbeatable competitive edge.

In the end, a talent hacking strategy can be a big undertaking, but you can start by choosing assessment tools with the end results in mind. They can be much more than data points, but rather they can change the very fabric of your culture.

Happy_workers.jpgCheck out our case studies and learn how many well-known organizations used PI’s assessment tools to help understand and supercharge their people.

Greg is the SVP of science at PI.

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