Why Culture and Words Matter

Judith M. Guido

One saying I often use is, “Words either wow or wound, so use them carefully!” People who are intentional and thoughtful about the words they use experience a cringe-like reflex immediately when using a word or words that shouldn’t have been used. We’ve all done it, and then we say to ourselves, “I knew I shouldn’t have said that as soon the words came out of my mouth!”

One example of the power of words and culture comes from a planning session with a group of company leaders and managers. A member of the group voiced concern that the company’s morale was at an all-time low, and the culture was in a state of degradation. The leader’s response was that he was “sick and tired of dealing with this soft stuff BS, and people just needed to do what they were paid to do.” The leader went on to say that culture didn’t make the company money or grow their bottom line, otherwise there would be a line item for culture on the profit and loss statement. The leader’s statements are the reason that I always say the bottleneck starts at the top.

What ensued was a heated exchange between team members, and the formation of two clear divisions amongst the ranks that the leader referred to as “the old guard” and “the new guard.” You can imagine what was going through my head as a first-time observer and facilitator of the group, as well as the minds and mouths of the team members. “Old guard versus new guard like in prison,” yelled one manager who was part of the “new guard,” which solicited a quick response from the one of the “old guards” who said, “Sort of… you gotta problem with that?”

I interjected and broke up the group into teams comprised of members from both new and old guard groups to address these issues and questions:

  1. Do we want to set up divisions and refer to one another as the old and new guards, or do we want to have a unified community and leverage the power of one? If so, what do we want to call ourselves and be known as?
  2. How should we define and describe our current company culture? Are we happy with what it represents and, if not, how do we want to change it?

After the exercise was completed and group responses presented, the entire group was asked, “Does culture matter?”

Spoiler alert, they agreed that culture mattered, and they weren’t happy with their current culture. They collaborated and came up with twelve activities that they could do as a team to strengthen their culture and agreed that they would focus on one activity each month to fortify their culture. They would reward and celebrate when cultural values were acted upon, and coach up when they were violated. They decided to call one another “allies” instead of old and new guards and defined an ally as a supportive and trustworthy partner in achieving common goals.

Words have power and really do matter in business and life. Whether words are used to help convey and clarify messages and reduce confusion, create a positive impression and build trust, motivate others to act or negotiate and de-escalate conflict to create harmony… words matter. Culture is the glue that keeps allies engaged and committed, attracts and retains like-minded allies, boosts productivity and creativity and fosters a supportive environment. Working as allies enhances the ability to adapt during tough times and promotes better decision making. A great culture can lead to increased profitability and long-term success, so perhaps culture should be a line item on your profit and loss statement. 

About the Expert
Judith M. Guido is the chairwoman and founder of Guido & Associates, a business management consulting firm in the erosion control and green industry. Guido can be reached at 818.800.0135 or judy@guidoassoc.com.