Want to change the way your organisation communicates? You need senior leaders on your side

There are many reasons for wanting to get everyone in your organisation communicating in a new way. These can include:

  • Aligning your tone of voice to your brand
  • Aligning your communications to business objectives
  • Getting your positioning right across all communications
  • Creating consistency – so that whenever your customers receive your comms, they feel like they’ve come from the same organisation
  • Generating trust
  • Differentiating your organisation from competitors
  • Giving potential customers a good feel for what their relationship with you will be like

Our approach to changing the language of a whole organisation is to create a tone of voice and then train everyone in your organisation to use it.

But if you want to roll out a tone of voice across an organisation, you can’t simply think of it as strategy + training/awareness.

Language is deeply personal

The reason language lends itself so well to brand alignment is that it’s one of the deepest expressions of personality that human beings have. Our language is a part of ourselves. Which means that unconsciously and usually unwittingly, we all give away strong clues about our personalities and identities with the words we use and the order we use them in.

This is so consistently true that intelligence and law enforcement agencies can form profiles of individuals, based on their patterns of speech and vocabulary. If you tend not to use the first person in your text, for example, you’re more likely to be lying (“Going out for milk!” rather than, “I’m going out for milk!”). If you use two spaces after a full stop in a sentence when you type, you’re likely to be over the age of 60.

When you’re creating a tone of voice you can reverse engineer this process so that you’re deliberately conveying a distinct personality with the language you decide is right for a brand.

All of this is very interesting and gives us a valuable tool for branding and positioning. But we also need to recognise that if you’re asking people to change the way they use language, you’re not simply asking them to learn some new facts. Instead, you’re asking them to change something that is fundamental to their personality.

In other words, you’re not just asking them to learn something new. Instead, you’re asking them to take part in profound, highly personal change.

Involving senior leaders

Senior leaders are important in embedding tone of voice

To get people to make this change – and to be able to take advantage of all the benefits set out in the bullet points – you have to help everyone to see the change as relevant and necessary. You have to convince them that making the change will make their jobs easier and more fun. And pertinently, you have to make sure they know they have permission to make the change. Which is where senior leaders come in.

The most successful wide-ranging tone of voice exercises happen – in our experience – when senior leaders are amongst the first to adopt.

It works for three main reasons:

  • It removes the fear some people have that if they switch to a new tone, their line managers won’t like it or sign off on it
  • It shows that the tone of voice is viewed as strategically important
  • It sets a general tone: That the organisation is changing and senior leaders want everyone to take part in the change

At the beginning of a tone of voice exercise, we always talk to our clients about senior leaders. How are we going to get them involved?

In some organisations, the most practical way is via one-to-one coaching sessions, where senior leaders can work with our specialists to make their communications more effective and more on-brand. In others, leaders like to join more open-format workshops so that they can share views with teams.

What if you can’t get senior leaders involved?

We’re not going to lie, this is not an ideal situation. We’d advocate talking directly to senior leaders to explain the benefits – both to the organisation as a whole and to them in their communications with teams.

If senior leaders can’t be persuaded to become involved, it doesn’t bode well for the sustainability of the tone of voice. Because sooner or later, all your teams are going to copy your leader rather than adhere to your carefully crafted tone of voice.

If you’d like help talking to senior leaders about language – or with tone of voice in general, please do get in touch.

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