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Personification

November 25, 2009

Alliteration, metaphor, hyperbole, and personification. Are these just poetic terms and figures of speech that we left behind in our English classes years ago or are they the keys to improving our business performance in the years ahead.

Alliteration is the tool of the advertising department. “Rough and ready, tasty and tantalizing.” Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sounds in a grouping of words to gain attention and make a lasting impression.

Hyperbole is an exaggeration or overstatement for effect. It is the tried and tested tool of the salesman making his pitch. The sales hyperbole is as common as the sun rising in the East. It’s usually more entertaining than misleading. “If you buy this policy, you’ll never have another worry.”

Metaphors are most noticeable in the narrative introductions to the annual financial report. A metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things in which no words of comparison (like or as) are used: “This year’s results were dynamite.”

While these and other literary devices maybe of use in business, personification is an indispensable tool for an effective manager. In literature, personification is the elevation of an animal, object, or idea to the level of a human such that it takes on the characteristics of a human personality: “the rock stubbornly refused to move.”

In business, personification means getting a person who has been elevated too high or who has been removed too far, to begin acting like a person instead of some inanimate object. That may mean letting people know that they’re working with and for real people: “the boss actually has a heart.”

People are more inclined to follow people rather than a plan. People are more easily persuaded to make a purchase from another person rather than a proposal. People understand, forgive, and care about other people more than they do for impersonal corporate property.

If you doubt the human interest generated by “personification”, consider the tale of “Humphrey the whale.”

A few years ago a wayward whale found its way into San Francisco Bay. As the nuisance became news, the whale was named “Humphrey”. News reports regularly “personified” Humphrey as they reported on his predicament. With “Humphrey’s” personification there came great notoriety throughout the world and an even greater effort to extract him from his predicament.

Not long ago a whale once again took the wrong turn into San Francisco Bay. It attracted some local attention, but not until the whale was identified as the returning “Humphrey” did a minor local event become a world wide news happening. A whale in the Bay was one story, but the return of “Humphrey” was quite a different story.

People don’t want to work for “Robo-manager.” Competence yes, coldness no. The first thing a manager must personify is themselves. Don’t be afraid to let your humanity show through. People respond to other people. Don’t become aloof and distant. Be real and human.

New managers in particular tend to become distant, aloof, or removed from others by the pressures and trappings of their new position. Sometimes a misguided notion of professionalism causes otherwise regular people to clone themselves into a sanitized stereotyped model of their position. Be yourself, whatever that may be. After all, it’s being yourself that got you to be where you are. Why change now?

People are more willing to follow a plan or adhere to a program if they know it has been designed by others who are prepared to follow it as well. That’s why the commander is supposed to eat the same rations as the troops. A program becomes “personified” if those that are leading the band are willing to march to the same tune as everyone else.

People care more about things that have a personal identification to them. That’s why letting employees name machines, decorate them, and customize their work spaces is good for productivity.

All the communications technology in the world won’t replace a personal visit when it comes to making a sale. Your hyperbole will go a lot further when you’re face to face. Paper guarantees are great, but people guarantees are better.

In the business world that tends to become all too sterile and impersonal from time to time, personification will set a manger apart from the pack. Be yourself, not what you think someone else thinks you should be.

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