Telling Words: How to Read the Mood of Your Organization

Unless you’re living in a closet you know that mid-term elections are less than a week away. At this stage in the race, would you call the front-runners “progressive” or “extreme”? Is this election about “reform” or government “takeover”?

National Public Radio (NPR) is tracking the language trends at play within this year’s race to November with their Fighting Words feature. The word to watch this week is “reform,” up 11% in its usage over last week. Democrats this week like “recovery”; Republicans this week prefer to speak about “jobs.”

Language use reads like a collective Rorshach test, revealing the underlying hopes, fears and boogiemen in our communal closets.

What can the trends in your team’s language tell you about the state of your organization? Here are two reasons and one tool for finding out.

Tilt's word cloud

Tilt's word cloud via Wordle.net

>> Reason One: Employees are more in tune with the optimism and anxieties trending on the front lines than are their leaders. Employees pay attention to and talk about the issues critical to their work lives. Whether explicit or not, employees tell you themselves about the stability of your organization. Begin your analysis with a study of the key words employees use in feedback to their leaders.  You have better access to this than you might imagine, for example: submissions to all-employee feedback channels, comments on corporate, employee and leader blogs, replies to corporate communications, internal chat and discussion boards. By watching the language trending on these formal and informal channels you gain precious insight into the minds of your people.

>> Reason Two: Data provides leaders new audience insight and (hopefully) results in better employee connections. Leaders and the communicators who support them are — despite the best intentions — still notoriously prone to assumption. We assume that “in these hard times” our employees want to hear about the vast sums of money the newest change program will save the company. Sure, cost savings matter to those who own budgets, but to most others they translate to further job insecurity and more work for the same pay. If you’re in a leadership position or supporting one who is, analyze the last speech, email or presentation you delivered to your organization (better yet, analyze all three). What language rises to the surface? Now analyze the same employee feedback channels identified above. How do they compare? Are you speaking to the cares and concerns of your people? If not, shift your focus. If you are, pat yourself on the back and then figure out what it will take to stay in sync.

>> And a Tool: Wordle.net. While there are many language tracking tools available, one of the easiest and most economical (read: free) available for use today is Wordle.net. Wordle allows users to quickly generate “word clouds” — a visual representation of most prominently used words — of almost any text or web site.

Still not convinced you’ll learn much? I just ran a wordle of Tilt’s blog, shown above. I love that the word “conversation” stands prominently in the corner. But “marketing” and “change” attain equal weight on this site, not a good sign for a company who offers expert client leadership on navigating change, not marketing. And what about the prominence of the word “Duct”? I apparently refer quite a few readers to the Duct Tape Marketing site. That might make owner John Jantsch happy, but it shows me I have some fine tuning to do.

Tell us what you’ve learned from your analysis.

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