The language of behaviours in a corporate set up is often either bland or too ‘corporatized’, sounding artificial. Many of my clients on my side of the Atlantic tend to find values such as candour and openness ‘too American’ whatever that means.
In our work as organizational architects, well-defined behaviours are our currency. In terms of their integrity as ‘proper behaviours, they must be concrete, visible and above all possess ‘unequivocal meaning’. Candour is a bad behaviour because it can be interpreted in a hundred ways. Asking yourself a question such as ‘can this be done faster or better?’ is a good behaviour because either you ask the question or not.
But regarding their meaning, I have a few acid tests.
1. Would you be embarrassed to talk about it with your friends or your wife?
2. Does it sound to others (you need to ask!) as corporate bullshit?
3. Do people understand what the behaviour exactly means?
4. How quick do people ‘get it’? Do you need lots of explanations and caveats?
You can add others such as, how inspiring or how impactful.
Corporate language is a dialect of the corporate tribe. It may be well understood by the tribe but it may have become meaning-less by its overuse.
In a recent project I found a segment of ‘youngsters’ hard to engage with the term empowerment. It was not the lack of understanding, or indeed, dare I say, the tacit assumption that it was a good thing. It was more a rejection of the dialect, which adoption would have make them de facto, absorbed by the corporate tribe, which they did not want to belong to.
Many discussions about behaviours and behavioural values need to be understood in that context. They may be well crafted ideas, proper ones for the purpose of shaping that culture, but falling short of passing the red face test.
Reframing is often the solution, but not something that can be done on the back of an envelope.
Having been a guest speaker of The Culture Academy in The Netherlands for two days, it’s easy to see how professions such as corporate anthropology have so much to say and to bring to the party. Language and dialects are the glue of corporate life. Where automatic business speak ends, interpretation of its function, meaning and impact starts.
Entire behavioural sets, value systems, slogans, credos and ‘brand power lines’ lose the plot with people by their lack of human smell in them, and the pervasive feeling of their robotic DNA.
No Sir, I will not enter your village, I’ll camp by the gates, I don’t want to belong to that tribe.
(OK, stay away as you wish, but could you please fill in the new Employee Engagement Survey?)