Language matters. The words we choose to use matter. Question is: what are those well-chosen words worth when they go no further than the paper they’re written on?

In the course of my work, I’ve noticed management will take great pleasure in showing me the most perfectly worded, beautifully written mission/vision statements or codes of conduct – frequently printed and hanging on the walls in their offices.  Similarly, they’ll show me any number of other written policies and procedures about responsible business.

As these are “words on paper”, my first question is: “what was the role of employees in all of this?”

Invariably, my question is met with surprise……..the employees? So, I’ll ask “who has to work according to the policies and procedures or comply with the codes or “live” the mission and vision of the company?” And management will say – why the employees, of course! Those very same employees who were either not involved, or not involved enough, in formulating those statements or describing the work they do for those policies and procedures.

Time after time, I find this disconnect between “words on paper” and what’s actually happening “in practice”. When employees are involved in defining mission/vision statements and in describing their work (for policies and procedures) – they understand it better, they feel “ownership”, because they contributed. Or put differently, they recognise themselves/their work activities in the words written down, know what they mean and are more easily able to practice them, simply because they were included in formulating them in the first place.      

Most companies face major challenges that require change – not just changing work routines, but changing hearts and minds. When we overlook those hearts and minds, it’s my experience that it slows the pace, and the effectiveness, of implementation and “anchoring” change in companies. Connecting “words on paper” to hearts and minds and consistently putting them into practice, develops the capacity for Responsible Business.