COMPANY CULTURE

Words Matter: Why You Need a Unique Corporate Vocabulary

An internal language that's unique to your company isn't just good for communication reasons, it's also great for culture reasons.
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I hate consultant speak. In fact, at the end of the day I think that you can take a deep dive into your 5,000 foot view of that synergistic pipeline and go ahead and right size your strawman.

What I LOVE is hearing a company create its own meaningful lexicon to communicate what matters most internally.

It's not about upper management using baffling phrases and obnoxious acronyms to distance their teams from what's really going on. Rather, it's about organically creating a cultural dictionary--an internal language, so to speak--as a natural output of the unique work you are doing.

At my company, Blinds.com, our employees frequently employ our own phraseology to generate excitement and to more clearly define what's going on within our company culture.

I'd like to share some of our lexicon with you and offer a few tips on how to create your own:

Make the words inspirational:

  • Autobahn and Everest -- These are project names created to inspire, not just describe. Autobahn is our enormous back end re-design intended to take our business t0 top speed. Everest is all about taking customer product customization to new heights--and boy, has it been an exciting climb. These project names are used 100 percent of the time and really mean something to the teams working on them every day.
  • Walk of Knowledge -- This is one employee's popular method of getting through challenging meetings by taking the team on a walk outdoors to be creatively stimulated.

Establish accountability:

  • The Learning Center -- This is the educational space where our trainees (aka "future stars") begin their career at Blinds.com. Note the intentional emphasis on learning and not training, as learning means work from the new hires to focus on their development. Employees then move on to a call center incubator called Academy Bay and when they graduate, they enter The Big Leagues.  This isn't just to be cute, it provides defined progress for the new hire and offers opportunities for all employees to celebrate alongside of them each step of the way.
  • The Quantifier of Awesome  -- This is the job title of a call center QA scorer.  Talk about accountability: she's looking for awesomeness and should she ever not hear or see it, our team will know and take action pronto.
  • Sales vs. orders > Solutions vs. service--The way you talk about even the most fundamental aspects of your business is crucial in maintaining the attitudes you want your employees to take.  Our sales reps are "design consultants." It's not a fluffy, feel-good name; it's what most accurately describes their role in the company.

Support core values:

  • The IdeaLab -- "Experimentation without fear of failure" is one of our core values. Our marketing team works in a science lab-themed space to inspire exactly this kind of behavior.  The team has two giant glass test tubes that they fill with marbles to offer a visual reference to how many tests they have completed.  Clear marbles mean test attempts, colored marbles mean success--we celebrate them all.
  • Learning vs. failure--We don't acknowledge the word "failure" inside our office walls. We take bite-sized, measurable risks every day and grow from them, alleviating the fear employees have about trying new things. We would risk sounding cheesy if we didn't actually live this mantra every day; thankfully we do.

Use historical references to provide a foundation for the future:

  • The Cake Shoppe, Laura's, 6 Brainer Tower -- These are a few names we have given our meeting spaces to honor important aspects of our company's history.  This way, all employees know where we came from no matter when they started. And yes, The Cake Shoppe also includes a fully stocked Easy Bake Oven (we really like cake).

Is your organization writing its own vocabulary? The point is not to create internal words just because you can or want to sound different or fun.

Once established, these words are anything but symbolic. They should be used all the time, not just in meetings with the CEO, but overheard in hallway conversations and brought up in performance reviews.

Words matter a great deal. Treat the words you say to one another with great respect and listen closely to what your employees are already telling you.

"Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it's from Neptune."   ~Noam Chomsky

I'm curious, what words and phrases does your business use, good or bad?  Leave a comment below and I will re-tweet my favorites at @BlindsComCEO.

IMAGE: bolandrotor / Flickr.com
Last updated: Nov 12, 2013

JAY STEINFELD | Columnist | CEO, Blinds.com

JAY STEINFELD is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window covering sales that was recently acquired by The Home Depot. Jay is a passionate advocate for amazing (and profitable) company culture.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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