Katherine Newcombe

What’s in a consultant’s ‘cultural toolkit’?

First of all: language. Language is a primordial cultural driver, and in many ways the most flexible of all of the cultural elements we discussed last month (quick reminder – language, values, attitudes, and rituals).   To analyse language, listen for key acronyms or terms that are used in non-standard ways.

We’ve all come across the acronym ‘JFDI’ at one point or another – it needs no further elaboration! – but how often it is used varies widely.

Consider the difference between stating that a project is ‘priority one’ versus a ‘JFDI.’ What is the underlying message this presents? How does it influence the behaviours of those working on the project?   Always listen for these underlying messages and other linguistic signifiers which in turn point to values or attitudes.

For instance, while in some companies employees solicit ‘feedback,’ in others they ask for ‘builds.’  This is the deliberate imposition of a term to shape particular behaviours and drive specific attitudes within a group.

A word of caution though – not everything is always as it seems!  It is as critical to listen to the ‘real’ way language is used – maybe sarcastically, maybe jokingly – as this points to areas where previous cultural intervention has failed, or where future intervention is needed.