Intention and Perception: Actions That Impact Your Culture

Actions speak louder than words – and perceptions ARE more important than intentions.

We’ve heard that actions speak louder than words, and this is especially true when it comes to your business. We know that when it comes to intention and perception, the way a customer or employee takes information is more important than how it’s delivered. Even the message with the best of intentions may be perceived in a different way – even negatively. Your messaging is especially important when dealing with the hot topics of modern business, including racism, ageism, and sexism. The way your brand plans for and reacts to communications is key to creating the right culture.

When Intention and Perception Collide

Every few weeks, The Dot Company hosts an event that’s open to all shareholders, employees, and customers. In the meeting, the executives allow the top leaders to showcase their talents and results on the various Dot Company projects. The executive picks groups based on their personal relationship, and sometimes based on their current results. At this particular meeting, there were a few dozen men and one woman, Ana. Ana was newer to The Dot Company and this was her first invitation to be on stage with the top leaders. As she was in the top 75% of the leaders, the attendees were looking forward to seeing what Ana accomplished with her work, however, an oversight caused the executive leading the meeting to omit her completely.

The intention of the executive was not to ignore Ana and her accomplishments, nor to perpetuate that the company was a “boy’s club,” but the perception is different. To the attendees of the event, the oversight looks a lot like sexism.

63% of Women Don’t See Things Getting Any Better

Leaders are responsible, not only for promoting women into the group, but giving them space to contribute. According to a 2018 Dice study on diversity and inclusion, 63% of women don’t see things getting any better for women in leadership in that year. In the same study, 2/3rds of women found that their ideas were ignored until repeated by men.  “Leaders need to invite more women to the table” is a suggestion in the article “Women, Find Your Voice” by Harvard Business Review.  And sexism should be a topic that is understood, especially by leaders, in order to create great cultures. According to an Inc Magazine article “women should not ‘fix’ themselves to fit into sexist work environments.”

Reacting to Allegations of -Isms

Understanding, then reacting appropriately is important when your company is accused of something. It is important to understand their perception of the information or action they received above your intention.

Take these steps to address the issue:

  • Crisis Management – work with PR professional to craft immediate response, ideally within 24 hours of the problem
  • Issue a Statement – you don’t have to admit to have intent, but own that the perception created an oversight
  • Include an Action Plan – your statement should include that you are working to understand the problem so you can do your part to correct it
  • Remove Biases – investigate the problem without biases (ideally by a third party)
  • Training and Documentation – write out future intentions and work with your audience to make sure all oversights are covered, including the need for additional training on the issue

Taking a Proactive Approach to -Isms

You don’t have to wait for an -ism to damage your brand’s trust and reputation. Instead, you can create a strategy to minimize problems with intention and perception.

Take these steps to be proactive:

  • Retain a PR Professional – establish rapport ahead of any issues so they are familiar with your brand’s values
  • Premortem Analysis – work with customers and employees to identify and solve possible oversights ahead of problems
  • Communicate Your Intentions – adjust intentions as needed and make sure there is clear communication on how to present them

When dealing with any sensitive issue you have to be open and willing to have difficult conversations. Additionally, you may need to enlist the help of culture experts to help you get on the right track. One bad experience can impact your brand’s trust and reputation. as we work to build more inclusive and diverse teams, being proactive can save your company. -Isms are tricky, but it is important to have a strategy to navigate them.

Nicole Royer is a former public relations crisis management consultant and current owner of Innovative Revolution.
Innovative Revolution helps companies build the right culture and teams to turn ideas into solutions. Find out more on their website:

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