What is walking the talk?


Posted by Carolyn Taylor - 25 January, 2010

What is walking the talk?
When searching for a name for a name for my book, my editor at Random House told me the name should describe the essence of the book's content. 

Hmmm, a good challenge for someone who has just written 100,000 words on the topic of corporate culture.  What was the essence of leading culture successfully?  Of course, it was to walk your talk.

Culture is built and maintained because people pick up messages about how they need to behave in order to fit into the community of which they are a member.  They adapt their behaviour accordingly, and so the perpetuation of culture continues.  (As an adviser who visits the offices of many organisations, my whole luggage packing strategy can a complex operation to combine in one trip a Silicon Valley look, a New York banking look and a factory floor manufacturing look.  Oh, the trials of consulting!)

Companies use their brand advertising to communicate what they stand for.  Leaders want to communicate the culture they expect, and most use road shows, slide packs, videos and meetings to do this.  But it is not what they say that people pick up on, it is what they do.    "What you do speaks so loud", wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "that I cannot hear what you say".  Whilst communicating intention is an important part of building the brand and the culture, it also turns up the "talk" dial, shining the spotlight even more on the "walk".

How does the "walk" show up?  In three ways:

Direct behaviours. What people observe in meetings, in emails, in one to one conversations.  The ratio between inquiring, listening and presenting.  The way mistakes are handled.  The resolution of conflicts.  Setting tasks and holding to account.  The topics of conversation.  How customers are treated.

Symbols or choices. Decisions made.  Choices which demonstrate the organisation"s (and the leader"s hierarchy of value.  How precious time is spent, how resources allocated, who gets the promotion.

Business management systems. Goal setting, planning, reporting, rewarding, developing.  Product design, service processes. How the organisation organises itself and its people to service its customers.

When the "walk" and the "talk" are aligned, the output is trust.  From customers, community and employees.  People follow leaders and brands that walk their talk.  From a brand perspective, this results in high customer loyalty.  Internally, people align their own behaviour when they see congruence between walk and talk, and the desired culture is created.

On the other hand, when an organisation does not walk its talk, the result is mistrust and cynicism.

It's a worthy goal, to learn to walk your talk.

Learn more about our solutions

For more case studies, ebooks, reports and white papers visit the Walking the Talk resources page here or contact us to learn how we can transform your culture.


Topics: Leadership team, Behaviour, Culture planning, Leading culture, Symbols

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