The language of change

clip art 2Back when I was an undergraduate, I worked in a communications office. We used “clip art” to illustrate our publications.  The office purchased books with pictures, alphabets, graphics, etc.  and we would use an exacto knife to clip out the desired item and attach it to the hard copy document with rubber cement. Then, assuming you measured everything correctly, it was ready to go to the copier.

I was talking to someone recently about the fact that most people have no idea that “clip art” once involved actual clipping.  To be truthful, I’d pretty  much forgotten that myself. Once people started using personal computers, desktop publishing changed the industry dramatically. As leaders, we want our change efforts to be like that.

One way to assess your change efforts is to pay attention to the language people are using.  Are they describing things using the new words?  Are old words taking on new meaning?  It’s easier to notice when you’ve changed specific things, such as a department name. You know you’re on the right road when people automatically use the new name when they answer the phone. Other things can be more subtle, such as the way people describe processes and procedures.

As a leader, you need to model the new behavior.  Be clear and thoughtful about how you describe the change. Consider creating talking points for your staff.  It might even be useful to create scripts for people to use when answering key questions.  Being consistent about new language can send a strong message to other stakeholders.

What is the “clip art” of your change effort, and how is the new way better? What language can you use to help yourself and others describe the change?

–Dee Anne Bonebright






Are people using the new language?

Crafting an effective “results” message – e.g. big data presented graphically


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