5 common reasons leaders can’t let go of fuzzy language

One of the worst problems with corporate strategy is the excessive use of corporate jargon, fuzzy language and “weasel” words. It causes business and non-profit leaders all kinds of issues when they try and execute on and measure their strategy. These empty and inert words, such as “sustainable, efficiency, holistic, quality”, sound important but fail to say anything at all because they are so open to interpretation. Despite the problems these vague words create, many leaders resist changing them to simpler language.

Understanding why some leaders can’t let them go is important if you want to help them change and, thereby, improve the measurability and execution of their strategy.

Reason 1: We need to keep the goals broad so everyone can find their own contribution.

This reason is a myth. In fact, people say how frustrating they find corporate jargon; they turn off and become cynical. It is in fact the top reason why employees can’t align their activities to the strategy in a meaningful way. It’s the number one reason no one takes the plan off the shelf!

Reason 2: Our strategy and organization are very complex.

So, the thinking goes, if we are complex then we need sophisticated language to convey it. Perhaps while the executives were creating the strategic plan, they thought they agreed on the meaning, but they failed to remember that a strategic plan is not for them. It is for the rest of the organization whose efforts will make the difference if it is achieved or not. If employees don’t understand it, it won’t be executed. It is, in fact, a leaders job to simplify complexity.

Reason 3:  We will waste too much time debating.

Some people just want to move quickly through planning, and they think that it’s impossible to replace weasel words with more specific words. If you can’t agree on simpler words to replace the vague language, though, then you likely don’t have a shared understanding. Big problem! If you can’t invest time and agree on what you want to achieve in plain language, then, for sure, your employees will struggle.

Reason 4: Being specific locks us in!

We prefer to have room to move, leaders will say, but this choice to keep “wiggle room” is really grounded in fear of failure; of not measuring up to expectations set by targets. If it’s a fear of missing targets, then we are driving the wrong behaviour. Instead, we want to be grounded in continuous improvement, and look for actions that will improve performance and move closer to our targets. Being specific is what will help us be much clearer on what action is needed, when and why.

Reason 5: We will have too many goals!

We realize that if we took all the weasel words that are in the strategic plan and translated them into plain language, we could end up with even more goals. That’s true; but it’s not a reason not to do it. In fact, it could be a sign that your plan is not strategic enough and is a shopping list. Instead, use it as an opportunity to become more focused and have a conversation about what is most important for you to focus on now. Remember, strategic plans should help you know what NOT to do, just as much as what to do.

None of these reasons are strong enough to excuse leaders from writing strategic goals in fuzzy language and corporate jargon. With a vague articulation of the organization’s purpose and priorities, we can’t ever know if they are truly being achieved.

Are you ready to try a new approach so that your goals are specific, making them easier to execute and more measurable? If so, then have a read of my previous Blog, KISS your Goals.