Last month, our own Chris McCoy and Jim Proppe had the opportunity to present a breakout session at the Great Place to Work (GPTW) Conference in Dallas. After the session, Vlad Coho of Riot Games (developer of the astoundingly popular League of Legends videogame) approached Chris. “I noticed you didn’t use the word ‘employee’ at all during your presentation,” he said. “Was that intentional?”

Was it ever. As far back as the days of co-founder Frank Moran, Plante Moraners have loathed the “E” word. Why? Because we’ve always felt that it misrepresents the relationships we have with one another. It implies we work for one another, not with one another. It implies a hierarchy, an “I’m better than you” mentality versus the “We’re all in this together” sentiment we strive to embody. It has no place in the Plante Moran lexicon, let alone our culture.

Instead, we use “Plante Moraner” or, if we need a more general term, “staff member,” which implies a horizontal framework where we’re all part of the same team versus the vertical hierarchy inherent in the word “employee.”

Not only did Vlad share our contempt for the “e” word, but he, too, has penned a blog about it: “The dirtiest word in the corporate lexicon.” Vlad writes, “The word is loaded with baggage….It reminds people of the power differential between manager and managed, between corporation and labor….Call me employee, and you’re only reminding me that our value systems are at odds, and that I should probably be working somewhere else.”

He also brought up the point that the word is never applied to elite teams. “The first man on the moon didn’t say, ‘One small step for an employee of NASA, one giant leap for mankind.’ Navy Seals aren’t proud to be ‘employees’ of the U.S. government. Instead, they’re proud to serve their country.”

It reminds me of an old story often told about NASA and a janitor there. When asked what he did for a living, he didn’t say, “I’m a janitor”; he said “I’m sending men to the moon!” There’s something to be said for a company culture in which team members identify with its higher purpose. We’re not “just accountants”; we help people grow their businesses beyond their wildest dreams.

And Vlad doesn’t just work at a videogame company. To him, Riot feels like “a team of elite ninja operatives hell-bent on a shared mission: serving players and making the world a much more fun place to be (if you‘re a gamer).”

Riot debuted this year on FORTUNE’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” at number 13. That’s one of the great things about attending conferences like GPTW—the opportunity to meet other, like-minded companies who see their staff members for what they really are: people looking to make a difference if only their companies will empower them to.

What do you think? Should “employee” be banished from the corporate lexicon? And do you have a particular way of referring to your coworkers?

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That Struck a Nerve

by Gordon Krater on April 28, 2015

We’ve been getting a lot of feedback on a recent article we wrote for CNBC. The topic—cybersecurity—is admittedly controversial, but we were surprised at just how much of a nerve it struck with some small and mid-sized organizations.

In the article, Group Managing Partner Jim Proppe asks, “Think only big companies get hacked?” only to immediately respond, “Wrong,” and then detail the challenges mid-sized companies have with cybersecurity. In fact, he offered, they might be at a higher risk of attack than larger companies.

“The latest is Premera Blue Cross, and before that Anthem, Sony, Target, Home Depot,” writes Jim. “These are big companies, and many would assume they were relatively bulletproof. Yet they couldn’t keep the hackers at bay. Imagine the risks businesses in the middle market face. Not only are they potentially under-invested in cybersecurity, they may not be even aware of the seriousness of the threat. … In fact, small and middle-market companies may be more vulnerable to attack because criminals know these businesses do not take substantial preventative measures.”

That’s because businesses don’t often know how to think like a criminal, so they aren’t as aware of potential weaknesses or how to guard against them. A few basic recommendations include:

  • Perform technical testing.
  • Monitor networks for unusually high traffic.
  • Implement multifactor authentication.
  • Strengthen administrative passwords.
  • Partner with a trusted cybersecurity firm.

It’s important for all companies to take the threat of hackers seriously. We take a “Pentagon” approach to cybersecurity—layers upon layers upon layers of security. We have to. With each year, hackers only become more sophisticated. What may have worked a couple of years ago will likely not be as effective today.

How about you? What does your organization do to guard against cybercrime? Have you been a target?



Can a Leader Be “Too Nice”?

April 8, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, Sandy Pierce, Chairman and CEO of FirstMerit MI, and I were honored as “business leaders of the year” by the Harvard Business School Club of Michigan—a very humbling experience. We were both asked to talk a bit about leadership and how we developed into our current roles. Sandy—who is an […]

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Are You a Great Multitasker? Not so Fast…

March 23, 2015

At Plante Moran, we have a number of training courses we provide to staff. One of them is on time management and offers a number of great tips like: Prioritize your to-do list. Eat that frog. (Do the hardest, least fun thing first. Just get it over with!) If a task takes less than five […]

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Do You Have an Enviable Culture?

March 6, 2015

FORTUNE magazine has announced its list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and for the 17th year in a row, Plante Moran made the list. We’re beyond thrilled and honored to be listed among so many amazing companies. Thanks to FORTUNE and a variety of regional “best place to work” awards, we’ve become known […]

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The Joy of Giving

February 16, 2015

Several years ago, we formed Plante Moran Cares as a way to encourage staff to rally around a particular cause and donate time, treasure, and talent to those in need. This year, we approached things a little differently; we asked each office to select the charity it would support. Staff nominated the causes that were […]

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For IBM Watson, It’s All Elementary

February 2, 2015

It beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in the 1990s. In 2011, it bested all-time winningest Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (even if it did think Toronto was a city in the United States). Today, IBM Watson is using its cognitive computer powers in business for everything from determining which of a company’s […]

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

January 19, 2015

Although no one knows for sure where the phrase originated, its best-known use was by Sir Isaac Newton in a letter to his rival, Robert Hooke: “What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much….If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Last month, we […]

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Work-Life Balance: One Cure for the Winter Doldrums

January 5, 2015

January can be a rough month. The excitement of the holidays is over, there are all those New Year’s resolutions to contend with, and the sun rarely seems to shine. Moreover, unless you work for the government, your next paid holiday is Memorial Day. It can be easy for the winter doldrums to set in. […]

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It’s a Small World After All

December 22, 2014

Several years ago, we formalized our charitable giving efforts and formed Plante Moran Cares. Each year, staff rally around a particular cause and give time, treasure, and talent to assist those in need. But that’s not the only way we give back to our communities; we also serve on a variety of nonprofit boards and […]

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