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Words Create a Company’s Culture
Take control of what you say and how you say it with these tips

by Heidi Zak / © 2021, Mansueto Ventures LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


As a leader, your words have a genetic impact on your organization.

  Words create stories, and stories form the basis of all human decision-making—particularly in new, unusual environments. Leaders set the narrative tone from the top. Your stories seep into your organization’s bloodstream and drive behavior at every level.

  Simply put, success originates in culture. Culture originates in language. As a leader, language originates in you. That said, here are a few lessons I’ve learned about language and how you can use it to encourage a healthy corporate culture.


Use words that normalize failure and enable quick decision-making

  Some of our most powerful stories revolve around failure. The words “success” and “failure” are understood to be opposites, with “success” being preferable most of the time.

  One of my company’s core values is “defy conventions.” What this means in practice is we want the team to question the status quo, be nimble and embrace change. If you’re not failing, you’re not learning. We want a culture that encourages a “test and learn” approach, which means that failures and learnings are constantly present.

  Like all growing companies, our early days were full of mistakes whose lessons paved the way for our future successes. As we’ve become bigger, we’ve had to work hard to avoid becoming more risk-averse, where decision-making and pushing the boundaries slow down.

  Particularly for innovative, growth-oriented companies, it’s crucial that perfect not be the enemy of good. It’s much more important to foster a culture of quick, informed decision-making—one [where people are] comfortable acting with 80% certainty, rather than waiting for 100%. You become a better decision-maker by learning from the results of imperfect decisions.

  Rather than calling them “successes” and “failures,” my team uses the terms “hits” and “misses.” A “miss” sounds much less punishing than a “failure,” especially when we couch it in learning-oriented terms.


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