Language matters. It matters for many reasons; not least because when different perspectives and priorities collide, the way we communicate can set the stage for moving forward. Thinking carefully about language and communication when implementing a culture shift in your association can help establish and cement the tone of the change, and turn a potentially challenging situation into an opportunity for learning and development.
I often use language as a tool to spark cultural transformation. In one organization, as I was undertaking a turnaround of the IT department, I asked my team never again to use the words “user error” when referencing support tickets and working with staff. This small linguistic tweak had a fundamental impact. Eradicating the term allowed each interaction to become a learning opportunity for the user, and a chance for the IT department to support them. This lead to IT-staff interactions becoming a mechanism for strengthening the relationship between IT and the rest of the association.
The IT department is often the first line of orientation when a new employee arrives at an organization. This interaction can be used to adjust the organizational culture at a grassroots level. An IT person is usually there on the new employee’s first day to introduce the tools and technologies they will need to use. This can be a powerful opportunity to set the cultural tone of the organization – and not just around technology. During the orientation, IT or other staff can present the new employee with expectations that are aligned with the desired organizational culture. This could be the systems you use, how staff collaborate, or the way core values are supported. Using the orientation in an intentional way can help the new team member to settle immediately into good habits, and drive cultural change among existing staff.
Communication is important throughout the staff onboarding journey. To assure employees value the strategic role of IT, team members should create a supportive and respectful relationship between the association and technology. For example, in their first couple of weeks, encourage new employees to stop by to ask questions instead of making them submit support tickets. Let them know no question is too simple or small, and that you have time to help them figure things out. Once they are familiar and comfortable in the organization, they can start submitting tickets. Some of the best insights and innovations can come from listening and understanding how staff are responding to a project or a problem. Laying the groundwork early lets them know that you are interested in working together.
The benefits of this mutual and supportive relationship will resonate across the association in ways that impact culture and strategy writ large. As leaders and team members build a foundation of mutual listening – where everyone knows perspectives are valued, relevant, and honestly considered – we can assure successful organization and technological change. The IT department can play a critical role in improving the capacity of the organization, the association, and the constituents they serve.