Corporate Culture: How Does Your Internal Language Translate?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On February 8, 2016

TranslationButtonHave your ever noticed how often we business people speak in code? I’m not talking about those of us who work in software and depend on code for our livelihood. I’m talking about the words we use among ourselves—particularly when it pertains to our internal corporate culture.

Too often we say something that sounds really appealing or noble or (we think) motivating. But what we really mean is often quite different from what we say. Here’s a little something to illustrate what I mean. It’s a job description that shows what we sometimes say versus what those around us actually perceive it to mean.

What We Say What it really means
Work on cutting-edge technology Do what everyone else is doing
Fast-paced environment Constant and hectic firefighting
Must be a team player Must never question authority
Able to work with minimal supervision You get blamed when things go wrong
Part of an agile team We have daily stand-up meetings
We are a market leader We’re still in business
Looking for a rock-star developer Long hours and impossible deadlines
We have an urgent need We’re in a jam (fired our last rock star)
Work in a dynamic environment Leadership keeps changing priorities
Looking for a self-starter No process—You’re on your own
Looking for someone with passion Get used to ungodly work expectations

Sure, I’m poking a bit of fun at the way we sometimes describe work opportunities within our companies. But job descriptions aren’t the only place where we sometimes say one thing and mean another.

Think about job reviews and performance evaluations. Sometimes the words that are on the forms we use in an evaluation are completely different from what we’re really after. We need to be crystal clear with our employees about what we want, what we expect, and how we’re going to measure those things.

That word measure is emphasized for a reason. We need to be sure that what we say is going to be measured can and will be measured. Nothing kills morale more than being blind-sided by an expectation an employee didn’t really know existed. On the other hand, nothing elevates morale quite like nailing a clear expectation.

Sometimes we write job descriptions, goals, expectations, and even marketing materials as if we were trying to impress our high school English teacher. But our high school English teacher wasn’t impressed by “clever” words then—and our employees and clients won’t be impressed now.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say. And make sure it’s measurable! That needs no translation!