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Language matters if you want your employees to give a damn

We want employees to care. About the organisation they work for. About the work they do. About working with colleagues to get the best outcome. We want them to care about their customers and their colleagues. We look at taking a different approach to employee communications to get them caring and signing up to the common good.

As I was listening to the new series of Serial it struck me that what I love about the presenter, Sarah Koenig, is her use of plain – and often colloquial – English. Her writing and presenting style are so easy to become part of and be invested in; she invites you into her world. And she doesn’t shy away from the odd profanity when required.

And I started to wonder about one of the biggest barriers I face every day; that awful, loaded term ‘engage’. What do we really mean by ‘engage’ in the context of employees? My colleague Jess also had thoughts about the term ‘employee engagement’. And I’ve come to a different conclusion.

Quite simply, we want employees to give a s**t. We want them to care about the organisation they work for. We want them to care about the work they do, to want to do the best they can. To want to work with colleagues to get the best outcome. To sign up to the common good. We want them to care about their customers and their colleagues.
We want them to care. That’s what we really mean when we talk about employee engagement.

Think about the difference in marketing strategy that comes out of a ‘loving our customers’ approach rather than a ‘beating the competition’ approach. We see this very clearly from working with Southwest Airlines for whom ‘LUVing’ the customer is a way of life. It changes everything; a focus on customers rather than the competition means that Southwest does things to really delight customers – they don’t just do the same things marginally better, or cheaper, or faster.

What would you change about your employee experience and communications if you didn’t use the word ‘engage’ at all? What would your employees need to see, hear and experience to really give a damn – to care – about your organisation? And what would you stop doing? What would you stop saying? What would you be more honest about? Where would you show your vulnerabilities?

To care is to feel emotional. It is not pragmatic and transactional. It is to feel welcomed, to feel appreciated, to feel valued and heard. To feel supported. And more importantly, to care is to feel part of something bigger than yourself. To be part of something doing good things for people, with the best intentions.

Try taking a different approach when you next plan employee communications, an event or an experience. Instead of asking yourself ‘what do we need people to know?’, ask yourself, ‘why would our employees care?’

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