Write right, then worry about culture

Ok, brace yourself. We’re about to say something you might not want to hear.

Your values, behaviours and corporate purpose won’t change a thing about your company culture.

They won’t make you more efficient, empathetic, radically candid or operationally excellent. Unless, that is, you’re willing to change the way you communicate with your people, too.

Culture matters

In fact, according to a LinkedIn survey from a few years ago, a good proportion of people would rather stomach lower pay (65%) and forfeit a fancy title (26%) than put up with an uninspiring work culture.

We know this – most of us have been part of a culture coup (or an attempted one) at some point in our careers. A new leader comes in. You all get called into ‘values workshops’. A rewritten corporate purpose statement starts doing the rounds.

But what about your day-to-day words?

The problem with all these polished, high-profile pieces – values, behaviours, purpose statements – is that they quickly seem like a sham if your other writing doesn’t match up.

We’ve all seen this, too; company values like warmth and compassion, followed by a series of robotic-sounding emails. Purpose statements about efficiency and speed, bookended by PowerPoint presentations of longwinded waffle.

The discord can even come through in individual words – one in particular.

Do you work with ‘people’ or ‘resources’?

That same LinkedIn survey also found that 47% of employees want to be a part of a culture where they can be themselves. What percentage do you think would think of themselves as a ‘resource’?

Probably not many. A resource is something you use and use up. It’s a thing, not flesh and blood.

Call your people ‘people’, and they’ll be more likely to bring their whole selves to work.

It’s why your tone matters as much for colleagues as customers

And consistency is important, too. It’s easy to write well when you’ve hit your targets and promotions are in the air. It’s much harder to stick to a consistent tone when times are tough.

We’re not saying you need to be all poetic next time you have redundancies to announce – just human. A shade more:

We will need to lose some of you over the next year.

And a whole lot less:

An estimation has been made of the reduction of 12,500 factory direct and professional employees over the next year.

(Stephen Elop, we’re still looking at you.)

Once you’ve got a tone of voice that works, it’s a virtuous circle

A tone that works internally and externally keeps itself alive.

The more your people are surrounded by the right kind of writing – in job ads and descriptions, company policies, papers and yep, purpose statements – then, like osmosis, the better they’ll get at writing that way themselves.

And if you’re struggling to work out what that tone of voice is, give one of us a shout. With a bit of work, it could be the glue that holds your whole culture together.

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