Why changing your business language requires deliberate action

For businesses seeking to expand their footprint beyond their local market, the use of English as the official business language is a strategic transition that can be a catalyst for exponential growth. This seemingly straightforward decision, however, has some change-related implications that warrant consideration.

These implications notwithstanding, we believe that adopting a new language should be an exciting adventure. One which Flowently is eager to guide you through. In this blog, we will unpack some of the complexities of changing business language and advise you on how this transition can be better managed.

Understanding the link between language and identity

The first step is to appreciate the link between language and individual identity. Linguistic anthropologists say that language is a fundamental component of how people create their identities and collectively shape cultures. Cultures, in turn, comprise unique approaches and behaviors that their members are unaware they have adopted. This is similar to fish not being able to critically evaluate how the body of water they are immersed in influences their behaviors.

Asking your team to adopt a new language is equivalent to asking them to assume a new identity and culture, of which the semantic nuances are unfamiliar to them. Therefore, it is incumbent on leadership to remain cognizant of the substantive nature of their request for employees to embrace this change in identity. 

The two-step flow to securing buy-in

The call to change does not need to come solely from management. Leveraging the two-step flow theory of communication to apply social influence is an essential component of driving successful change. The theory states that most people are not influenced by information they receive from the (media) source but by how it is relayed to them by trusted intermediaries. These intermediaries are called opinion leaders or a “guiding team” in change management terms. 

Identifying and empowering these opinion leaders with insight into the strategic motives justifying the language change ensures that you have the right people in place to disseminate key change messages. As trusted individuals within the organization, they are essential to creating a consensus-building atmosphere, wherein employees feel their concerns are recognized, and their opinions lead to meaningful action.

Make your vision meaningful to employees

It is not self-evident that everyone in an organization shares the same goals. For substantive change to be sustained, employees need to internalize organizational objectives; perceiving business and personal growth as inextricably linked. Employees need to know how their individual actions play a crucial role in achieving corporate success.

Framing your change vision in a manner that resonates personally with employees’ intrinsic motivations and needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy is thus essential to ensuring their engagement in the process. 

By positioning your new language endeavor as an opportunity for employees to expand their social and professional spheres, you will address the universal need for relatedness. Combining this with the expertise of Flowently’s experienced language professionals, you can develop programs tailored to employee language proficiency, professional role, and department. Whether they be in marketing, administration, sales, or management, our structured training will instill a sense of mastery and efficiency that enhances team competence. Finally, through helping employees internalize organizational objectives, you will promote an internal perceived locus of causality. Thus, giving them a sense of autonomy in action, believing that participating in the change effort is not a result of external pressure but an internal decision.

Making your vision meaningful to employees in this way will address the basic psychological needs that underpin growth and development.

The Marshmallow effect of quick wins

The well-known Stanford University “Marshmallow Experiment” offers an unexpected yet valid insight into a key aspect of effective change management. Namely, that exposing people to their reward increases their desire for and subsequent actions to acquire it. 

This is a vital component of the change process – knowing how to create and celebrate quick wins. Finding instances of marginal growth as a result of adopting a new business language will have a strong effect on employees’ motivation to pursue the attainment of long-term goals. These wins can be small increases in international client acquisition or a broadening of your employee diversity pool because of the change in business language. By amplifying these incremental successes, you will give credence to the greater change vision.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

It is easy to allow short-term wins to lull us into complacency, where we mistake early success to be indicative of embedded change. This is an error many organizations make when implementing change initiatives. Forming a new corporate identity should be seen as an iterative process where the evaluation of what works and what does not is par for the course. 

Take-home message

Whether the change to business language is an additive (incremental, short-term) adaptation or a substitutive (substantial, long-term) change, its significance should not be underestimated. It is advisable therefore to:

  • – Have a clearly defined vision that justifies the need for change.
  • – Create an employee-centered frame where their personal growth is the salient aspect.
  • – Recognize and acknowledge the cultural implications of changing your organization’s business language. Emphasize the positive elements without disregarding the challenges.
  • – Be amenable to adjusting your tactics to address employee fears and concerns.
  • – Empower others to act by creating a guiding team comprising individuals that employees trust.
  • – Create and celebrate quick wins, allowing the compound effect of marginal growth to motivate employees to continue on the change trajectory.
  • – Finally, remember that change is an iterative process. It requires constant evaluation and adjustment.


By Mike Plaatjies

Published by: Flowently

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