“We’ve been saying ‘Don’t call your colleagues operatives. It makes them sound like machines.’”

That line stood out to us. It was in an email from a new client at NHS Property Services. (You can probably guess what they’re about. They look after buildings for the UK’s health service.) Today, they work as one big team. But management didn’t always feel close to their colleagues on the frontline.

The language had to change

In headquarters, you’d hear terms like ‘operatives’ or ‘domestics’. Terms that made cleaners, caterers and engineers sound like resources to deploy, rather than people on a shared mission. So we found a new tone of voice for the team. One based in everyday language that everyone could use. And the change in language led to a wider shift in culture. As the new tone reached people through workshops, we saw writing become a way for the back office and the frontline to work together.

It’s all about care

NHS Property Services support the people who deliver care to patients. Every clean floor, every working door, is part of that care. The same goes for their writing. It’s all about caring for readers. Messages should be easy to understand and quick to get through – and leave readers feeling good. So the tone of voice (summed up as “We put care into words”) showed people at every level of NHS Property Services they were engaged in the work of care.

Finding their voice

To help find their voice, we delivered five custom-made brainstorming exercises and surveyed 30 members of the frontline community. To roll it out we wrote one keynote speech to inspire leaders and we trained 50 senior leaders in the writing techniques that make up the tone. To keep the momentum going, we trained seven team members to run the workshop to cascade the knowledge throughout the organisation. As one member of staff said:

"The training was clear and relatable with practical exercises and examples. She really brought it to life and made it feel applicable"