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Does Your Start-up Speak the Language of Love...?

October 3, 2017


I recently attended my local Start-up Grind event here in Brisbane. It's an event I try to get to as much as possible, as it offers the chance to hear a start-up founder being interviewed live, learn more about interesting businesses, and to contribute questions to the conversation in real-time. The recent event was headlined by one of the founders of a leading Melbourne based start-up. Having been aware of this company previously, I was interested to hear how they've scaled the business locally and internationally.


A lot of the discussion was standard for these types of events, focusing on how the company was founded, the biggest challenges they've faced and what some of their tips for success are. Something I didn't expect to hear about, however, was the way the start-up applies the way people behave in romantic relationships to their workplace culture. My "HR ears" pricked up immediately as soon as the Founder started talking about their use of "Love Languages" to build a strong organisational culture.


Having worked in HR positions across various industries, including in some of the most innovative organisations around, I've long been familiar with the different tools companies utilise to discover how people prefer to work, and how to use this data to bring out the best in them and others. The Myers-Briggs Type Finder is a well-known example, with other large tech companies using Markus Buckingham's "Stand-Out" method as a way to identify and capitalise on individual strengths in teams. 


Derived from Gary Chapman's book "The Five Languages of Love", and used frequently in the relationship counselling space, the Love Languages test aims to clarify how a person expresses and receives love. The book is centred on the idea that if someone can work out their own language, and their partner's language, they should be able to create a more meaningful relationship. This start-up has started using this methodology across their company to help learn more about how they and their team members like to be motivated at work.


The five languages are as follows:

  • Words of affirmation: This person values being told how much they are loved - and this is what makes them motivated in romantic relationships. A way to apply this to the workplace would be for a manager to ensure they frequently let team members driven by words of affirmation know they have done a great job.

  • Quality time: This person values spending time with the person they love. In the workplace, this could mean a manager always ensures regular one to one meetings are arranged and kept with their reports, and makes themselves available wherever possible when asked to meet these team members. 

  • Receiving gifts: This person values receiving things in love. At work, this person will likely be much more motivated by receiving a congratulatory bunch of flowers than by their manager telling them they did a good job.  

  • Acts of service:  This person likes love to be shown via a particular action. In the workplace, this person may respond well to a manager who takes them for lunch and foots the bill, steps in and helps with a challenging project, shares their own expertise to add value, or tops up the coffee machine refills with their favourite type as they know they like that one. It's the little things. 

  • Physical touch: This person likes love to be shown by touch (the Founder admitted this one is a little trickier to master in the workplace, and the audience did have a bit of a chuckle imagining how this could be successfully implemented without implications). The key with this one at work is deploying it wherever possible, which may be a handshake of congratulations, or in more relaxed workplaces, a hug well done.  


Capitalising on these languages at work may often only require subtle shifts in behaviour by managers, but could make all the difference when it comes to team morale and retention. The fact this start-up has chosen to use Love Languages to learn how to better motivate their team members and contribute to a stronger work culture demonstrated a very creative approach by fearless early-adopters, and one which other companies should certainly be open to learning about or even trying. Curious? Take the Love Language test here.


Sian Havard is Founder at Milkshake Group, a Brisbane, Australia based consultancy which partners with startups wanting world-class talent strategies. Find her at

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