There’s a word in our collective vocabulary that needs to die a quick death. The word is “iterative.”

Have you heard it?

Many IT professionals are thinking about iterative and incremental development cycles, which is a thing unto itself. But your HR director just learned the word “iterative” and is probably misusing it.

For example, I just had a discussion about iterative feedback. I was like, hold up, there is no such thing as iterative feedback. I think you mean real-time feedback. And there is no such thing as valid real-time feedback. (If you think it’s okay to offer an uninformed opinion to subordinates as you experience the facts on the ground, that’s cool. Let’s just call it what it is: one-way babbling.)

Maybe that’s a little harsh, but “iterative” is used incorrectly across the HR lifecycle.

I just learned about an iterative talent management program. It’s a talent management program meant to evolve as business conditions change. Out of nowhere, you might need a different workforce with different competencies because you signed a new client. But that’s not iterative. That is an undefined talent management program intended to favor those in control. It’s not iterative. It’s a three-ring circus. (The bosses are the ringleaders, and the workers are the dancing bears in tutus from Russia.)

Have you heard about iterative recruiting strategies? It’s called iterative because people have grown sick of the word “agile.” It’s out of fashion. (An iterative recruiting strategy is not strategic if it’s iterative. Say that seven times quickly. Then chew gum and pat your stomach at the same time.)

And if you have an iterative employer brand, you don’t have an employer brand at all. You think you have a living, breathing community of ambassadors who provide real-time data points on the health of your corporate message. What you are experiencing is chaos that can be measured by a social dashboard, but it’s still chaos. (And it’s not iterative!) 

So please do everyone a favor and stop using the word iterative unless you have a career in mathematics or technology. And maybe stop using that word, anyway, because it’s convoluted and only used to show how smart you are.

I know you’re smart. I love you. Drop iterative from your vocabulary for your sake and mine.


  1. I have now shelved my presentation on the impact of dynamic iterative systems on spontaneous gamification in recruiting. Now no one will ever know how valuable I am 😉

  2. It’s a really good word to apply to a process like writing where you have to revise repeatedly so that writers understand they can’t just sit down and create a final draft in one go but have to incubate, experiment, seek feedback, etc. over time.

  3. When people use this word when they could have used simpler, clearer words, I like to smile and just blink my eyes repeatedly until they understand that whatever it is they were saying just washed over me and they are going to have to try again.

    I win.

  4. Fantastic tips that I can use, especially the one from Carlos. Thanks!
    There are some ‘words’ I refuse to use because they just sound silly or are culturally inappropriate (they aren’t that bad, but Aussies trying to sound like anyone other than an Aussie just sounds dumb. IMO.).
    Please stop using ‘SteerCo’. That sounds like a food brand or a bunch of cows being herded. It is Steering Committee people.
    Also, if ONE more person ‘reaches out’ to me ….. Well…. Good piece Laurie. We all need to speak like we mean it and not use jargon just to try and sound smart.

  5. I think iterative applies to many talent management and recruitment processes used in too many companies.

    They do not know what they want or need so they hire or promote the wrong people into roles. Later the person quits or is fired for performance. They repeat this process until they stumble onto someone that does not quit and does not need to fired.

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