Case Study: Official Languages – A Culture Shift
Official Language policy in the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence was all about rules and policies. A complicated matrix dictated which language you should use when communicating with others. It was confusing and complicated, which resulted in more barriers and additional layers of bureaucracy. As a result, the program was universally disliked and resented.
The challenge was to introduce a new approach and a new way of thinking about official languages. Rather than being about rules, there was a desire to return to the original spirit of the Official Languages Act, which was to allow people to communicate in the language of their choice – a very human act of respect and acceptance.
Further, there had been increasing evidence that the ability to work in two languages was a proven operational strength in the battlefield.
Changing attitudes and indeed culture about a set of policies and rules is not easy. There were widespread myths and confusion over the program.
Originally, the Director of Official Languages contacted Vision2Voice after seeing a video we produced. He wanted a video too. After some discussion and a review of all of the organization’s communications activities and products, we recommended a comprehensive strategy be developed. The strategy set out key messages to foster a culture change, and recommended that a new look and feel be developed. The messages and the visual brand would be carried through all communications tools and tactics, resulting in a cohesive, lasting and very visible campaign.
The strategy focused on the concept that official languages was really about people. We used fundamental communications principles to reframe the idea of official languages – instead of being a program based on rules, it was a program that was based on values. We showed the human side of official languages by telling stories and by visually capturing the essence of the program. We were able to capture the imagination of our audience by demonstrating that the official languages program is about people working with people.
It’s About People
The approach began with the development of core communications marketing products including a video on DVD, print material and a redeveloped Web site. These products were designed to achieve the objectives in the plan. A new ‘look and feel’ were also developed to reinforce the key messages and ensure consistent visual branding between all official languages marketing material.
The core marketing products would be complemented by ongoing communications activities.
The eye catching look and feel conveys the idea that official languages is about human interaction.
A 20 minute video was produced to provide new insight into the official language program by demonstrating that the program is about treating others with respect. The video illustrates this through a series of vignettes, and also gives members of the CF and employees practical ideas about applying and integrate this new approach into everyday operations.
The DVD received rave reviews from those in other departments involved in official languages. In fact, the DVD was showcased at a conference on Best Practices in Official Languages.
Points To Remember
- Make it human – appeal to fundamental human values like respect for others and trust.
- Tell a story – the use of vignettes illustrated, in a very personal way, why the Official Languages program was needed.
- Bring it to life. When you let others tell their stories, the messages become real. For example, the Commanding Officer of Joint Task Force 2 (Canada’s equivalent of the Navy Seals) talked about his operational experience and how being bilingual helped him as a leader working with soldiers from Canada and from other countries.
- Be bold. The creative look and feel was a change from the ordinary, giving the program’s marketing products a distinctive look.