Business Metaphors

Metaphor: A word or phrase that means one thing and is used to describe something else to emphasize their similar qualities.
What type of metaphors do you use to describe your business and how you operate within the context of your business? How do your employees describe your business? What about your clients/customers?

You may be unaware of these metaphors – once they become ingrained our language we tend not to give them much thought. If this is the case, take some time to listen to yourself and others, it will give you great insight on how your company is perceived. Take note of both the similarities and differences in the metaphors you hear:

1. What patterns do you notice?
2. Are the metaphors complimentary or derogatory?
3. Do the metaphors represent the organizational culture of your business? Do they align with your vision?
4. How do client metaphors align/not align with employee metaphors? With your metaphors?

Here are some examples of business related metaphors:

• This is a rat race
• We are like a family
• We are a team
• Time is money
• We are fighting a war
• This is a battle field
• We are a sinking ship
• It is how you play the game
• We are a well-oiled machine
• We are up a creek without a paddle
• Our company is like a supertanker
• Working here is a nightmare
• It’s like a three-ring circus around here
• I feel like I’m in a maze
• This is a roller-coaster ride
• We are lost at sea
• We are winners
• It looks like a tornado hit
• It feels like home
• I feel trapped

Recognizing the common metaphors in your business will help you:

1. Assess the company culture
2. Gage the perceptions of others
3. Gain knowledge of what is working and what is not
4. Decide what changes to make

Here is an excellent resource highlighting the “family” metaphor in business.
Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family  by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia (Portfolio).