Talking the Walk!

Accountability Communication Organizational culture


Key Point: Profoundly better organizations have a different language to explain their unique value offering and strategic advantage. It’s like Google’s “Googlism,” Disney’s  “cast members,” and so on. These aren’t just cute words, but distinct language that represents a fundamental cultural and business model differentiator. It’s not phony copycat stuff either, like, “let’s call employees ‘associates,’ ‘talent,’ etc. because it’s ‘trendy.’” Differentiators who “talk the walk” create a language that facilitates the translation of unique business intent into competitive advantage.

Bill Taylor emphasized this in a recent HBR blog

“One of the most ubiquitous aphorisms in business is that the best leaders understand the need to ‘walk the talk’ — that is, their behavior and day-to-day actions have to match the aspirations they have for their colleagues and organization. But the more time I spend with game-changing innovators and high-performing companies, the more I appreciate the need for leaders to “talk the walk” — that is, to be able to explain, in language that is unique to their field and compelling to their colleagues and customers, why what they do matters and how they expect to win. The only sustainable form of business leadership is thought leadership. And leaders that think differently about their business invariably talk about it differently as well.” 

After 40-plus years in business, I have seen this principle applied very effectively and not at all. When authentic, it is lead by the top of the organization. This is NOT a feel good consensus, bottom up exercise. This is driven by Founders, CEOs and/or executive teams that have such clarity of vision, almost fanatical passion, and differentiation that people rally and become inspired by words and language that captures the culture; sometimes, unapologetically in almost cult like ways. If people don’t subscribe they don’t get selected and/or are quickly rejected by the culture. Taylor goes on to describe an example of this further in the same blog: 

Quicken Loans ($80 Billion in mortgages) Founder Dan Gilbert and CEO Bill Emerson call this language the company’s ‘Isms’— which is why the rollicking, fast-paced, eight-hour orientation session is called “Isms in Action.” Gilbert and Emerson, who present separately and together over the entire eight hours — an executive teaching marathon unlike anything I have seen before — march employees through the company’s 18 Isms, with a combination of slide shows, stand-up humor, war stories from the trenches, and unabashed appeals to the heart. A few of the Isms get covered in 10 or 15 minutes, some take an hour. But the end result is a full-day immersion in a whole new language — a ‘vocabulary of competition’ that sets the company apart in the marketplace and holds people together in the workplace.” 

Character Moves: 

  1. How do you “talk the walk” in your organization? If there is nothing there, you probably are part of a “me too” company that uses terns like “customer service” to differentiate you… Blah blah… (Of course if you have no true differentiator other than price and transactions, making up language would be worse). 
  2. How about you? Do you have unique language that talks your walk? The Character Triangle can contribute to that. Expressing your translation of self-accountability, respect and abundance gives you a framework to differentiate you from others. 
  3. Talk the walk AND walk the talk. You have to do both. Language that differentiates you will help with your personal brand; especially when you have examples and stories how you’ve put the language into action. 

Talking the walk in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: This is interesting… Everyone is aiming to work for leaders that “talk the walk,” and of course we all know individuals who work for companies that sometimes have enviable “differentiators” that we’d love to be part of… I’m not sure if the name is always important… I care about working for a quality organization, not if my title is clever… There are plenty of Disney “cast members” who dislike their roles, because although they have a trendy title, they’re still bussing tables or stuck in a hot Goofy costume. Sometimes these “creative names” can be cringeworthy. But as long as I’m working for a leader that talks a great walk, then, call me whatever you want to… I’ll get on board. 

– Garrett

Blog edited and published by Garrett Rubis