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Clarifying What Words Mean In Your Organization

August 18, 2023

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Words Matter

In many workplaces, the aim is clear communication, but achieving it is another ballgame. We might think that industry terms or company lingo are understood by everyone. However, even a straightforward word like “accountability” can take on different meanings depending on an individual’s position or background. For a team leader, it could mean guiding a project to success; for a new employee, it could simply be about finishing tasks on time. When dealing with clients, its interpretation might shift again. This emphasizes the crucial role clear communication plays.

Values: More Than Just Words

Values are the bedrock of an organization’s culture. They aren’t chosen at random; they reflect the company’s core beliefs and goals. They set the standards for how everyone— from staff to stakeholders— should behave and tackle challenges. Yet, merely stating them in a handbook or displaying them around the office doesn’t ensure everyone’s on the same page.

Consider “integrity,” a term many companies cherish. Its wide acceptance doesn’t guarantee uniform application in daily work. If one colleague believes integrity is about being honest and another feels it’s about keeping promises, there’s room for confusion. In tricky situations, how will they respond? And do their reactions mirror the company’s view on integrity?

Words can bridge gaps, encouraging teamwork and shared respect. But when their meanings are unclear or differ between individuals, they can create hurdles. Factors like educational histories, cultural differences, or past work experiences can cause these disparities.

Steps to Clearer Communication:

  1. Create a Detailed Glossary: This involves not just defining terms but providing context. How is a word or phrase understood in relation to your company’s activities?
  2. Prioritize Education & Training: Terms become clearer when contextualized. Workshops or training sessions can offer staff practical examples, making vague concepts more concrete.
  3. Incorporate into Your Performance Management Process: Regular feedback sessions should evaluate not only job performance but also how well an employee aligns with essential company concepts.
  4. Address During Recruitment: During interviews, discuss these crucial terms. It offers insights into a candidate’s understanding.
  5. Embed in the Onboarding Process: Starting with clarity ensures new team members understand and communicate effectively from day one.


All of this sounds simple, but it’s not.  Leadership breakdowns almost always start with communication issues.  We assume too much and verify too little.  We shy away from the hard work of establishing true clarity and then ensuring what we value is equally understood and applied.  If you want to be an effective leader start here.  Get everyone on the same page with your core values and what they actually mean.