Your number one audience for your strategy is those whose responsibility it is to take on the change needed to achieve your organization’s desired future. Buzzwords are their enemy because this fuzzy language leaves employees guessing at the real meaning of the words and the leaders’ expectations. Corporate jargon inflicts huge damage on a leader’s ability to communicate, prioritize, and measure the strategy.
To make sure your strategy does its intended job, we need to work through the resistance to using plainer language and provide viable alternatives to the common excuses for not letting go of the vague ideals and fuzzy words.
Challenge these 5 common excuses for sticking with corporate jargon
Buzzword Excuse #1: We need to keep our goals broad enough so everyone can find their own contribution to it.
This excuse is a complete myth. In real life, employees find it frustrating and misleading. Instead of acting on the goal, they turn off and often become cynical about the entire strategy. The lack of clarity and specificity is why many strategic plans are never used and performance gaps never closed. Organizations do need a strategy execution framework, but using buzzwords is not it.
Buzzword Excuse #2: Our goal is very sophisticated and complex, and we need sophisticated and complex words to convey it.
At time of strategy writing, the executive team may think they have a good handle on the practical meaning of their buzzwords, but strategic plans aren’t written for the executive. They are developed to lead execution throughout the entire organization. An executive team’s job is to see through the complexity and develop a shared understanding, so their teams know where the organization is headed. If teams don’t understand specifically what future success looks like, employees will fall back to what is comfortable to do and the change demanded to achieve future goals will rarely take place.
Buzzword Excuse #3: It will take too much time to agree on words to replace the buzzwords.
This excuse is a sign of executive team dysfunction. Either they treat strategy development as a bureaucratic hoop and never plan to use it, or the leaders lack trust in each other’s abilities to work through difficult conversations to reach a shared understanding. Truthfully, the best conversation they need to have at this point is about what these vague goals mean to each person, and how to develop a shared understanding, using clear observable language. Only then, can leaders do their job in leading execution.
Buzzword Excuse #4: We don’t want to be held accountable for anything too specific; we need room to move.
Alert! Weasel words are probably a symptom of a bigger problem. The root cause is likely a fear of leadership accountability. Stop the strategy work and first address the fear. Structure a conversation around the question: “What is your definition of accountability (it is, after all, a buzzword itself :)?
If the definition of accountability is about hitting targets to avoid being judged as a poor leader, it’s a definition that will do more harm than good. Accountability is taking action when action is needed to close the important performance gaps within the organization. Measurement is the feedback loop that tells you whether that action had any impact on what you are trying to achieve.
Buzzword Excuse #5: We would end up with too many specific goals if we “unpacked” and explained the buzzwords.
It’s true: often when a goal is “unpacked” and made more specific, it may turn become a few different and specific results. That’s too many and is a sign that your strategy isn’t really strategic. It’s more like a shopping list of everything that is important, rather than a ruthless prioritization of what is most important and urgent to focus on right now. Remember Peter Drucker’s message: strategy is more about what NOT to do.
Have you heard other excuses for wanting to keep those buzzwords and corporate jargon in strategy?
Email Louise and let her know.
Want to remove buzzwords from your strategy?