Skip to content

Defusing Your ‘F bombs’ ….The power of language

Defusing Your ‘F bombs’ ….

The power of language to support change


I read a great article recently in PR daily by Michelle Mazur which presented a spot-on countdown of dehumanising corporate jargon words including the use of the word “resource.”  Michelle wrote, “If the resource you’re referring to breathes air, talks and has a name, it is best not to use the word ‘resource’”.


Michelle then went on to point out that it’s a perfectly fine word if you’re referring to a copy machine, paper clip and the like but people are different to staplers.


I loved the article because it made me smile – and I completely relate to the sentiment – but also because it highlights that words are a big deal, they matter in so many ways.  For example we analyse the comments of our politicians to death, squeezing out hidden meaning, scrutinising them for wriggle room.  Then there’s social media, this gives us the biggest archive of words ever, recording indelibly our musings from the good and great to the gaff and gopper (hmmm I couldn’t put my finger on a better ‘G’ word- any suggestions?).


But to ping a spotlight on here, something I’ve been working on again recently when defining our DNA is the power of words to support change.  In our organisation we have over the years developed our own language.  I’m not talking something akin to Esperanto here – although that could be fun! – I’m talking about developing a whole load of talk stuff that has supported our culture and along the way been a part of making changes.


So here are my 10 tips to finding language that supports and develops a great culture.  In no particular order…..


  1. We’re “colleagues” not “staff” – strips out a bit of hierarchy.
  2. We work in teams, not departments – chops out a bit of silo mentality although for me even “team” is starting to feel prickly and can have a feel of exclusive and cliquey groups. (But that’s a whole other blog!…. see Inspiration from the washing line and the so solid crew) I’m talking crews –
  3. On the topic of performance indicators pick something that humanises what you want to achieve. From the housing world take “void unit” vs “empty home” compare and contrast and I hope you agree option 2 is what it’s really all about.
  4. “A polite reminder” – polite! Really!? If you’re honest what you’re saying is saying here is ” how rude are you, you’ve ignored me once and now I’m getting just a teensy bit cross!” say what you mean.
  5. Job titles are a tricky one, do you go for the full on Innocentesque Fruit Towers “mango muncher” and hope everyone knows that “mango” is a euphemism for paperwork and “muncher” is all about gobbling up red tape or do you go for Administration Officer – which kind of implies officious “there’s a p785216j form for that”.  I really love what Innocent have done but something in the middle probably works better for most organisations.  And as for “officer” apart from the forces and police it does feel sooo outdated.
  6. Here’s a challenge: Are you up for reducing words? Do you really need to have a set of values, a mission statement and a vision? Could you strip down to a short set of DNA words or phrases?  Just think of the relief on your colleagues’ faces! We’ve just done this and ooooh it’s been liberating.
  7. Team names.  A bit like job titles there’s a danger of going too far, making people cringe or turning people off. As Michelle Mazur advocates if you haven’t already it’s time to rethink the “Human Resources”  label, and for me with Facilities under my wing I’ve been mulling over ideas recently. How about “space and kit” or “space services” but I think I might attract contact from would be astronauts. suggestions welcome.
  8. Which reminds me to mention “head office”.   Well, how important is everyone who works there then compared to anyone out in the field? Central services or support centre sounds better.  I love what Sainsbury’s have done on this, they call such ivory towers “store support”. I think this very beautifully puts what it’s all about first.
  9. Standard word sets – surely a no no.  I can’t think of anything less empowering.  I read recently that US store Wallgreens instructed their people to say “be well” as they finished serving customers.  Come on, a limp shameless and thinly veiled reinvention of “have a nice day”. And what do you say back? Discussing this with a likeminded friend he suggested a retort back to the cashier would be “live long and prosper” and we later added “if you don’t believe me I’ll give you a Vulcan death grip”. Surely it’s better to get colleagues to use the intelligence and personality you recruited them for and add a bit of them to their conversations with customers. 
  10. And last but not least.  When it comes to describing your customer experience is “satisfaction” on the money? I’d suggested a “no” on this. A colleague once put this beautifully when he said: Imagine going home tonight and cooking your partner their favourite meal, candles, music the lot.  Then when you asked them if they’d enjoyed it they said “yes that was very satisfactory”.  Satisfied is not a terribly aspirational or passionate word however you use it!


This list is certainly not complete, I’d love to hear about language in your own organisation, whether it’s by design or default – it has impact.


Inspiration From The Washing Line and The So Solid Crew

crew (2)Inspiration From The Washing Line and The So Solid Crew

I’ve been pondering something this weekend … Is the concept of “team” now defunct and is “teamwork” a thing of the past?

On Friday we held our all colleague event; the Bromford Bash. It’s a big deal for us, let me set the scene; 1150 delegates, we do all our own event management, the ICC in Birmingham, technically complicated with a range of AV, animation and live twitter feed, lots of colleagues presenting (imagine facing an audience of over 1000 people when it’s not your day job) and one of our customers up there too.

Now clock that professional and totally amazing, inspirational and lovely speaker, Tim Campbell, first winner of The Apprentice is there. Yes I have fallen a little bit in love with Tim as have most colleagues from Bromford… and I promise here in writing not to stalk him! And the cherry on the top for good measure is the finale, ‘doing’ the UK’s biggest Harlem Shake led by our CEO … Which could be the biggest ever tumble weed moment ever in the history of events if no one joins in. Phew they did (check it out on You Tube here. You’ll see Mick our CEO is a great sport).

So it all went off on Friday (if you looked the link you’ll see I mean that literally!) Even better than I could have dreamed of. All the lead up paid off all the rehearsing, nagging, persuading, preparing. And whilst I could write a list of lots of people here … colleagues Alex Abbotts (who heads up our Comms team) and Tracy Cadwallader (who heads up our facilities team) deserve a special mention because they lead the teams of their own and other colleagues that created such an amazing ‘do’.

Over this weekend I’ve been reading all the Yammers and Tweets from our colleagues under the #bash2013 and it’s been humbling but also really amazing to feel all the luuurrve out there for the people who helped support and contribute to the event including the teams and people that organised the day.

But this has caused me a problem, I panic every time I read one that doesn’t mention both the Comms and Facilities teams. Frightened that one will get left out and feeling the need to compensate for it by reminding the poster that more than one team was involved. I was like a cat on a hot tin roof all weekend checking out postings and trying to make sure every one in each team or person felt valued and recognised.

I started to think about two other things – firstly one of our ‘F words’ here at Bromford is “department” we always refer to “teams”. Department to us indicates silos and we’ve not used this in our language for many years. Secondly it took me back to a conversation I had with our CEO a few weeks ago about our meetings rooms. We have open plan offices here (absolutely no one has a private office) – we do have “team rooms” that any one can book and we labelled these up with a team name – “HR team room” “Finance team room” etc. Mick and I discussed that this was almost counter to what we are trying to achieve – sticking a territorial label on a room.

So as the concept of team becomes less defined with matrix management, cross team working, project groups internal and external contributors is the concept of “team” as we used to know it dead or at the very least changing. I started to think about a more apt replacement , what about “collaboration” it’s very vogue but hmmmm doesn’t seem to capture the energy and some how feels very formal and has the danger of getting on an unflattering list alongside “running an idea up a flag pole and see who salutes it”, “pushing the envelop” “touching base” and “blue skies thinking”. What about “gang” .I still wasn’t sure. I took inspiration from my washing line – flapping away in the sunshine on my line was my T-shirt from Friday. Emblazoned on the back “CREW”. For me anyway this seems the solution. Crews on ships change, are together for a purpose, have to work together no matter what rank or they could sink, some may move on after the voyage and but find themselves together on a future trip.

So I dedicate this post as a tribute to special group of people. The Bromford Bash 2013 Crew – you know who you are!