Could a mantra change your company culture?

Knowing ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ might encourage you to eat more healthily. But could a mantra change the way people behave at work, too?

We think it could.

What’s a business mantra?

It’s any phrase or saying that’s easy to repeat and sticks in people’s heads. Used well, it’s a subtle way of guiding your team’s behaviour without feeling draconian.

Ritz Carlton, for example, tells its employees, ‘We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.’ In one sentence, it perfectly sums up the Ritz’s clientele and how the team should treat them.

The All Blacks, on the other hand, tells players to ‘Leave the jersey in a better place.’ It’s a mantra that could easily work for businesses. (Swap ‘jersey’ with ‘country’ and it would be a powerful line for the Government right now, too.)

Why do mantras work so well?

Behavioural scientists would call them heuristics: mental shortcuts that help you make decisions. If you’re feeling peckish, thinking about the ‘apple a day’ mantra might just encourage you to go for Golden Delicious, not Golden Wonder. And the mantras from Ritz Carlton and the All Blacks could do the job of a fifty-page code of conduct.

For us, we know we’ve cracked a client’s tone of voice when we can sum it up in a one-line mantra (or sometimes a picture). People might read their full tone of voice guidelines once or twice (we hope), but it’s seeing the mantra on the walls, hearing it in meetings and judging writing against it that makes new brand language stick.

Choose your mantra with care

Now and again, though, a mantra can be a little too effective. Teams at Facebook did such a good job following their ‘Move fast and break things’ line that things kept breaking and they spent all their time fixing them. They’ve since updated the saying.

What makes a good mantra?

If you want to change the culture in your company or get a new behaviour to stick, here are our three mantras for writing your mantra.

- Focus on what you want to start doing, not stop doing. ‘The customer’s always right’ is more effective than ‘Don’t keep telling customers that they’re wrong.’

- Short is sweet. One sentence is plenty.

- Rhyme and rhythm help repetition. The best mantras roll off the tongue. Try saying yours aloud a few times. If it’s easy on the ear, that behaviour change might just come more easily, too.

And if you’ve got a tricky behavioural problem you’d like to tackle, give us a call.

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