One major challenge in work life is that it tends to be inherently empty. I mean, too many employees, working in a standard corporation is lacking a deeper purpose. The employees are not feeling fulfilled. They are simply not engaged.
The statistics speak for themselves:
- 51% of the workforce in U.S. are not engaged
- Only 16% say they feel “connected and engaged”
- Disengaged workers cause massive losses in productivity – between $450 and $500 billion a year
The corporate missions often talk about “delivering high quality”, “adding customer value”, “being no 1 in…” and “bla bla bla”. Maybe these statements inspire some people, but for the regular employee, they tend to give absolutely NOTHING. As Frederic Laloux, the author of Reinventing organizations, said in an interview:
“There is a frantic business, running from meeting to meeting, that often helps them suppress a nagging and painful question: What’s the meaning of it all? Is this really how I want to spend my life?”
And it only gets worse when it comes to the day-to-day corporate lingo. The language used in businesses today is just endlessly meaningless. Yet we know that language and emotions go together. Words have emotional meanings, and if you change the words, you may change the emotions.
Let me illustrate with a story.
We were involved in a merger of two companies. Our purpose was to help them create a winning emotional climate for their new organization.
We started by looking at the merger information they had given so far, and picked up the most commonly used words. The list was filled to the brim with the following type of words:
“Synergy”…“cost-savings”…“competitive advantage”…“strategy”…“integration”…“processes” and “efficiency”.
We asked the integration team to look at these words and think about likely emotions these words will elicit in the employees.
They got the point. These were not words that would inspire their workers.
So we asked them what words they would like to hear in the corridors of their new organization.
The integration team worked on this for a while and then came up with this list: “thank you”… “great work”…“good morning”…“well done”…“professional”…“happy customers” and “together”.
Quite a different list, wouldn’t you say?
The integration team decided they’d start using these words in their communications instead. And not longer after this, it was time for the very first joint meeting between the employees of both merging companies.
We had a discussion with the CEO and asked him – what kind of an emotional climate would he want to create? And then we encouraged him to share a personal story reflecting that very climate.
As the meeting started, everyone was expecting the typical “synergy-savings-strategy” type speech. The CEO started talking:
“One night I was sitting with my wife on our backyard, and we saw our neighbors walk by. We have always admired our neighbors; they seem to be so happy. So we asked them to join us for a glass of wine. They agreed, and we took advantage of the situation; we asked them about the secret of their happiness. “Oh, we’re happy to share it with you. It’s no big secret. Just three simple things; 1) having a good, mutually respectful relationship, 2) being in good health, and 3) having a little bit of extra money. That’s it. That’s our secret to a good life.”
The CEO continued:
“When I was thinking our merging organizations, I remembered this conversation and these three building blocks. That’s exactly how I would like our new life together to be. To have good relationships and respect for each other. To be a healthy organization, focused on our essentials and organizing around them in a healthy way. And to have good financial health, with a little bit of extra money. That’s it. That’s how I want us to be. And I believe we can be like that.”
Compared with the standard “synergy-savings-cost-efficiency” type speeches, the CEO’s speech was touching, personal, and it was well received. The CEO’s personal story added the much needed human touch to the merger. Combined with the new language, the new organization’s emotional climate was off to a great start.
So when you want to create real changes in the emotional climate in your workplace, a good starting point is to CHECK… YOUR… LANGUAGE. What are some common words in your corporate language? How does your office language in your workplace make people feel? Is it inspiring? Calming? Energizing?
Look at those words with true honesty. Then choose your words carefully.