The Power of Words in Creating Company Culture

Posted on March 9th, 2021  •  by Jonas Gagnon


In his commencement speech to Kenyon grads in 2005, David Foster Wallace told a parable of two fish.

One day, as the pair are swimming along, they meet an older fish. The old fish says, “Beautiful day, the water’s fine.”, then continues on his way. After a moment, one of the younger fish turns to his friend and says, “What the heck is water?”

Wallace expands on this parable to talk about our beliefs and how they shape our lives, but I think it works just as well when talking about the power of our words. And more specifically, in how words can build a more powerful company culture.

An unmotivated company culture

I was talking to a friend the other day who is a sales manager at a furniture store. His job is to train his sales team, teaching and encouraging them to get better at selling.

Now, like many stores today, the margin on furniture is thin, so the store pushes its own extended warranty that people can buy along with their furniture. Interestingly, more than the product, it’s this extended warranty that makes the company the most money. So, the higher the take is on the warranty, the more everyone makes from bonuses and commission.

However, a commission alone isn’t always enough to light the fire under salespeople to really sell. If the team is lacking in ambition (or, they’re happy just meeting their quotas) then pushing them from good to great is a feat that takes a special kind of incentive.

Motivation beyond money

While the almighty dollar can encourage an employee to sell, it’s not the only way. In fact, when an employee is making enough to cover their expenses and lifestyle, money gets less tempting. And if they’re only striving to make just enough, then their skills as salespeople isn’t truly being utilized.

If money alone is not a reliable method of motivation, then what is?

A company culture that incentivizes excellence is.

But it’s a little more difficult to ‘Create a Culture’ than it is to simply hand someone a paycheque.

Getting the ‘juice’

No one goes home to talk to their partner about insurance, though they may get excited about the furniture they’re selling, or even the people they are selling with. And that might drive them to sell more furniture, but it only pushes them so far along the path to pushing insurance, i.e., the real money-maker for the company.

So, how do you incentivize the sale of something as complex (and ultimately boring) as insurance in your company culture?

Something interesting is happening with insurance at my friend’s store. In a bid to get people thinking about selling insurance, they’ve coined the term ‘juice.’

As in, ‘did you get the juice on that sale?’

Now, suddenly, the selling of insurance is transformed. It’s no longer about terms and agreements, it’s about getting the power. The respect…

The JUICE, baby.

Movie poster of the film, Juice and how the word relates to better company culture.

When divorced from its cultural trappings (like the movie above, or the track Juice by Chance the Rapper) the word ‘juice’ is only slightly more interesting than insurance.

But in how they use the word, it moves from mundane to a synonym for power, or something like it.

By changing the terminology, the sale of insurance becomes a move that proves how powerful you are. And that’s an intrinsic push that adds further drive to that extra, almighty dollar.

Finding the right words to empower your team

So, I could spin this and talk about how the right words on your website, landing page, emails etc. etc. etc. will drive sales and make you a millionaire, but aside from this brief exploration, we’ll avoid the unnecessary push for a sale.

I think the greatest lesson we can take from my friend’s example is how essential words are in creating an ideal company culture. You can ignore the weight of the words and just talk about couches, insurance and lamps, but you’ll be leaving a valuable tool on the table.

By working to, as organically as possible, add new vocabulary to your company culture, you can help drive your team to greatness.

And that’s juice too, baby.