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Birdies, albatrosses, and caddies: My struggles to create a cohesive culture

by
April 08, 2018

I'd like to give readers another look inside our company, Cadence Translate.

This weekend, a lot of sports fans around the world are watching the 2018 Masters golf tournament because Tiger Woods is finally back in contention. Although as of today, it would take a miracle for him to win the event, it has nonetheless drawn the world's attention to golf. As CEO of a research company primarily aimed at helping people overcome language barriers, I've always loved the evocative terminology of golf.

Caddie.

Eagle.

The Turn.

Green Jacket.

These words spark a lot of emotion in any golf fan but are somewhat inscrutable to outsiders. I started my career at Bain & Company, where internal company vocabulary helped build an amazing culture (ask any Bain alumni about BWC or ACT and they’ll likely smile and tell you a story). As an entrepreneur, I was keen to use terminology as a spark to build a happy, healthy culture.

I settled on golf as the theme around which I’d orient our terminology.

To soften the blow of asking people to work the graveyard shift, for example, I called it the groundskeeper shift, since that is the person whose responsibility it is to tend to the course overnight for players the next day.

I thought I'd score points for cleverness. Instead, I got confusion and even a bit of antipathy.

This made me nervous. A company's culture can be shaped by its leadership but is ultimately proven healthy and sustainable by its team members. If people didn't identify with phrases like "Are you working the front 9 or back 9 tomorrow?", did this indicate I was heavy-handed in imposing other aspects of culture on the business?