When my dad, Fred Klein, a noted sports journalist in the United States, had a look at Changing The Terms, he had two observations. That it is well presented (with many thanks to Lauri Liimatta, my WordPress expert), and that it could use some practical tips for my fellow pros.
That started me to thinking: if I could give one piece of advice to my fellow internal communication pros, what would it be?
DITCH THE “CORPORATE ‘WE’”.
What is the “Corporate ‘We’”?
It is the inappropriate use of the word “we” by a corporate communicator, generally when treating the company or its management as a disembodied first person.
“We cherish our values, pursue our objectives with passion, and place our customers at the heart of everything we do. Signed, The Management”
For me, the use of the “Corporate ‘We’” epitomizes bad practice in the corporate communication world for four reasons:
- The “Corporate ‘We’” is presumptuous. It acts as if choices that employees are fully capable of making can be made on their behalf without their consent. It aims to speak for people before determining whether they have agreed and aligned with what is being spoken.
- The “Corporate ‘We’” is disempowering: Saying all employees are all already committed takes the thunder out of employees making a conscious decision to commit to something. Why should I bother if my agreement is going to be taken as given anyways?
- The “Corporate ‘We’” deflects accountability: Rather than one leader sharing an opinion or an assessment about the attitudes and readiness of the organisation, or explaining potentially unsettling news in a human context, the “Corporate ‘We’” acts as a buffer between the leadership, the message being shared, and those being expected to accept it.
- The “Corporate ‘We’” diminishes authenticity. Indeed, there is nothing authentic about the “Corporate ‘We’” in that corporations do not have an actual voice. If Euan Semple is right when he says, in his excellent book of the same name “Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do,” then it is equally right to say “Corporations don’t speak, people do.”
Replacing the “Corporate ‘We’”
There is one simple step to follow to replace the “Corporate ‘We’”. For every “we” that is required, find someone to express it as their own opinion. Alternatively, use the corporate name, or use “the company.” If the company is doing something, saying it in the third person does not stretch credibility. Saying it in the disembodied first person does. And as business communicators, we need to channel the credibility of our organisations and leaders as effectively as possible.
Ditching the “Corporate ‘we’” doesn’t just change the tone and appropriateness of corporate communication. It also changes the terms.