Words At Work

The profound effect language can have on company culture.

We are constantly amazed by the power of words, especially when it comes to employee engagement. Seemingly small tweaks in language can lead to meaningful changes in employee perceptions, morale and even behavior. In fact, according the WSJ, new cognitive science studies show that language “profoundly influences how we see the world…It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think.”

At the most basic level, when employees have a sense of meaning and purpose — particularly one that aligns with their own personal values — they have a real reason to get out of bed and go into the office in the morning (aside from the paycheck, of course). And when we feel valued, we have a greater level of trust and security at work, which means we can focus our efforts on creating value, rather than defending it, as found in an extensive HBR study on employee satisfaction and productivity. Furthermore, when employees feel respected they feel significantly more engaged in the work they do and more likely to stay at the company.

A Culture-Driven Brand

Recently, we saw the power of language at play when partnering with a challenger technology brand looking to stand out and compete more effectively against industry behemoths. Attracting and retaining top-level employees was as important to the firm as attracting and retaining new clients.

Research uncovered that for a whopping 90% of employees, the firm’s unique culture was a major factor in their decision to join the company. Employees were drawn to the firm’s family-like atmosphere, passion for project success and encouragement-to-speak-your mind culture — a stark contrast from the often “factory-like” and “anonymous” feel of larger competitors. This strong culture translated into a clear benefit for the technology firm’s clients as well, who appreciated the unusually long tenure of employees and better overall experience in working with the firm.

Clearly, their inclusive and empowering culture was a true differentiator. But we were surprised to learn that it was not being communicated in a meaningful way to internal or external audiences. We saw an exciting opportunity to bring this impressive culture to the fore and make it a core pillar of their brand.

Creating A New Vocabulary

To help the technology firm demonstrate their corporate culture in an authentic and compelling way, we created a glossary of brand-driven words to help communicate what was different — and better — to key stakeholders, including employees, recruits, clients and prospects. We suggested subtle changes to words they commonly used to describe their process and staff that better conveyed the strategic value they delivered to their clients. Employees weren’t just a team, they were “an elite corps”. Recruits didn’t participate in “training” but “immersion in the company way.” We even coined a new term derived from the company’s own name to replace the use of “employees.”

Not only did employees find the new vocabulary fun, but it also provided them with a greater sense of the value of their own roles and a stronger connection to the company itself.

How To Make Words Work For You

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to different companies’ mission, vision, and values, the same amount of consideration and customization must be given to the rhetoric, tone, and word choice of brand communications. As we’ve written about before, research plays a critical role. You can’t engage employees unless you know what they care about and value. And when employees feel engaged in the rebranding process itself, they are usually more willing to share their perceptions and insights.

We’ve found that talking the right talk to employees not only fosters positive internal perceptions and company culture, but also makes it a whole lot easier to walk the walk and communicate brand value externally.


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DeSantis Breindel is a B2B branding and marketing firm.

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