Word choices matter. Do you see business as a game or a war? Do you talk about beating competition or achieving goals? The words used by you and the people in your business support (and reveal) your company’s culture. This means that if you want to be intentional about aligning your business around a set of values, you need to be evaluating the language that is being used every day, in meetings, in your marketing, and in your direct interaction with customers.

Some examples

When you call your surroundings a market you express a different attitude toward it than you do when you call it your community. The concept of market is that items are bought and sold there, whereas a community is the place where people live, have relationships and contribute. Community is where you are interrelated and interdependent. In a market you are out for your bottom line results. Period.

Words establish and reinforce habits of thought, especially when they are repeated by leaders in your organization. If you are not choosing them on purpose you are probably working with a vocabulary that is the outcome of your leaders’ pre-existing habits of thought.  And it is possible, even likely, that some of that habitual vocabulary is out of alignment with where you want your business to go.

Think about the difference between calling the individuals on your staff

  • employees
  • team members
  • partners

An employee sounds like someone who is told what to do.  The word sounds generic, doesn’t it? The concept of team member, on the other hand, communicates that people in the company work together toward shared goals. As part of the team they are likely privy to more information and have more influence than employees. As for partners – this conveys that all of the players have input and skin in the game as the company moves forward and makes decisions.

We could summon a tremendous number of examples where words have connotations and emotional cues attached. Instead of going there for right now, though, let’s talk about the gap between the language you choose and the behaviors observed.

When you choose a set of terminology for your company that is supposed to convey specifics about the manner in which you view your business and its stakeholders, you set an intention about behaving in alignment with that terminology. The more broadly you communicate your chosen vocabulary, the more important it becomes to make sure behavior is in alignment. When you broadcast your intention, more people are watching and helping to hold you accountable to fulfill the expectations your language is setting.

The judgment is harsher for expectations set and not met than it is when expectations were never set in the first place. So when you decide to choose certain words in an effort to create and reinforce culture you need to:

  • Communicate with your stakeholders about the intention behind it. Explain why you’re doing it.  This helps them to align themselves with you.
  • Be specific about the behaviors that do and do not exemplify the words you are using. For instance, how should a partner behave in a meeting when he or she disagrees with an authority figure?  How should the authority figure behave in a company that calls its people partners?
  • Check your processes for alignment or misalignment with the terminology you are using.

Want to change your company culture?  Summit knows how to help you to do that, without some of the delays and backward steps that some businesses have had to go through on their way there.  Check this out http://summithrd.com/services/strategic-planning-and-execution/

Still not convinced that words matter, that language is important?  We’ll remind you of a little joke from middle school Language Arts class:

  1. I did not say I hit my wife
  2. I did not say I hit my wife
  3. I did not say I hit my wife
  4. I did not say I hit my wife
  5. I did not say I hit my wife
  6. I did not say I hit my wife
  7. I did not say I hit my wife
  8. I did not say I hit my wife.

We thought you would remember.  Enough said.