Is Your Company Brainwashing You?


March 12, 2010

What power do words and phrases have to influence our perceptions and behavior?

I remember many years ago when I joined the workforce, several companies I interviewed with told me they hire only the best.  At the time, it didn’t register.  I was young, I was out of college, and basically I just wanted a job. I didn’t care that they said they wanted to hire the best, I just knew if they wanted to hire me, that would be great. A few years later when I had some experience under my belt, I decided I was ready to move to a HR generalist role.  I signed on with a company that told the employees, “We only hire the best and the brightest.  We’re a great place to work.”  I worked there many years and after hearing this day in and day out, I admit, I believed it.

When I left that company almost nine years later, I was back in the interviewee seat.  The new company told me, “We hire the best and the brightest.”  I was taken aback and actually joked with them, “Oh, that’s interesting because company XYZ says THEY hire the best and the brightest.”  We all had a good laugh.  Truth is, that statement may have meant something years ago, but it is so overused today that it lost it’s meaning and impact.  Companies are just using it to brainwash their employees.

Guess what folks, we can’t ALL hire the absolute “best and the brightest”.

We can’t all be “the best place to work in our industry.  Nor can we be at the top of every list on best places to work.  It’s not possible.  I much prefer a company to tell me:

  • Employees who work here are extremely passionate about what they do
  • Everyone understands the mission and we tie our work to that mission
  • Treating others with respect is the only behavior that is tolerated
  • We’re successful when our employees are successful and we set our employees up to be successful

What do you think?  What other statements have you heard over and over that you know are just not true?  What are companies saying to try to convince employees and candidates they are the best?  What SHOULD companies be telling employees and candidates?  Let’s talk about it in the comments…


  • I’m with you. We have values in place that help define how we’d like employees
    to behave in order to achieve our strategic goals but we don’t base the hire soley on those values.
    We also believe fit is an important part of the hire. This idea of “hiring the best” for us is more about
    the thought. We hope we’re getting the best candidates and we hope that our managers are selecting
    the top potential candidates out of that pool. Great post Trish, leave the brainwashing to advertisers!

  • Great points being made. The problem as you outline is that most orgs. they don’t even know what that means!. The look at this as an intellectual issue rather then the “hearts and minds” So what happens they go for the highly qualified who are quickly disengaged and why? Well the business does not know how to develop the culture it needs to thrive

  • Really interesting thoughts. My take on it though is that you can’t blame organisations for wanting to motivate their staff by telling them they’re the best. We’re always being told by the staff of clients we work with (HR and management training) that they’re not given enough praise or recognition when they do something well. Compared to that feedback void, being told you’re the best when hired sounds like a good thing to me.

    • @HRStalker- Great point, leave the brainwashing to advertisers!

      @Peter- Thanks for the comment. I think what you’re getting at is true- you have to look at the whole picture. Not only hiring the best qualified candidates but then creating the culture that will enable them to thrive. Well said.

      @Steve- So glad you commented. I agree with you that it is important to praise employees. What I was getting at though is that it all sounds hollow to me when every single company says “we hire the best and the brightest”. There isn’t any substance there anymore because it’s an overused phrase. Maybe companies need to focus on the progress review after the first 90 days and tell the person then if they are the best person for the job. Just a thought. Thanks for reading and commenting. I love the interaction Steve.

  • Interesting comments and I wonder how much of this is clumsy expressions rather than clumsy thinking. A little along the line of “people are our greatest asset”…..

    Really we are looking to recruit the people that are the best fit to the organisation and role….or am I being too symplistic….again?

  • Excellent points and perspective. I’ve seen this and sadly can say that I have fallen victim to it as well.

    I think that when you start to drink the Kool-Aid, you eventually go blind.

  • Time and again I have seen how corporate brainwashing backfires. HR recruiters unwittingly create uncoachable PrimaDonnas when employees begin to believe “we only hire the best”.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.




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