Thursday, 14 May 2009

the language of an organisation

Blog post 100. Its a milestone for us. We don't write for a living, but we see enough around us that merits debate and discussion. And we make some time to put out our point of view.

100 ..and counting....we're grateful.

The language of an organisation is a simple concept. Each organisation uses vocabulary which is very specific. Some companies use "we" more than "I"..others use "suggest" more than "lets do this". Still others use "lets discuss this" while others stick with "you can do this...or you can't do this".

Its been a long time since either Ritu or I changed jobs, but a friend of ours changed jobs recently. Moved from consulting to industry. I noticed that as a consultant he used certain words very casually:
- home working
- connecting on sametime
- "deck" to refer to a set of powerpoint slides
- "play" to refer to participation in a market
- "billable" hours

We spoke after his third day on the job and he referred to a conversation he had at work earlier in the day. When asked for his advice on a new project, he listed out his approach with numerous instances of "i think we should do this"...." i think we cannot do that..." etc.

I understood from him that in a consulting organisation, he could be as direct with his own team members (not with his clients, of course) and he extended that to the new company, only to get some very shocked looks from across the table.

The language of the orgsanisation.

Sure, most organisations have English as the official language. But "I" and "we" are both English words. So are " i believe we could" and " i think we should".

When you change jobs, do you try to figure out what language your organisation speaks? Are they direct? Are they consensus driven? Are they comfortable working on sametime? Are they comfortable working across functional silos? How do they show respect? Is it to hierarchy or to capability?

How much senior management talent is from the outside rather than home grown? How old is the company?

Without an effective understanding and usage of the language of an organisation, it is impossible to integrate into it. No great ideas will ever pass through an organisation whose language one has not yet learnt.

I remember a relative once telling me (almost two decades ago) why he had taken so much trouble to learn the American accent, when he relocated to the US.
"They just don't understand our way of speaking English", he said to me. " So i learnt to speak their way".

I remembered that today. When i thought of how groups of people develop their own language. You move to a new neighborhood, you have a new language. New country- new language. New school- new language. New project- new language.

So new company? Better learn the new language.


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