Stop writing your strategy in vague, ambiguous, weasely language!
For some reason using corporate-speak (also known as weasel words) to communicate strategy has become common practice. People bandy about words like efficiency, effectiveness, quality, innovation, diversity, engagement, and sustainability as if they have a universal meaning. The problem is that these words actually have very many different meanings depending on the context. And unfortunately, in the absence of a defined meaning, people interpret the words based on their own experience and assumptions – or, even worse, just disengage.
So why do people who develop strategy think they need to use weasel words? In my experience, it is usually one or all of the following four reasons:
- They believe it’s inspirational: some leaders think that writing strategy with goals that include words like innovative, excellence and world-class are going to inspire their employees to charge forth to be those things. But what exactly do those things really look like in your company and how will you know when you get there?
- Desire to “get ‘er done”: it takes time (sometimes lots) to get a group of leaders together to debate what it is they want to achieve, not just do, and then write it in a way that everyone can understand.
- Fear of judgment: when leaders write in vague language, they don’t have to put a stake in the ground and truly say what it is they want to achieve. And if they don’t state exactly what they want to achieve, they certainly can’t ever be held accountable for not delivering on it.
- Unaware of alternative: when a bad habit becomes common practice, people just tend to keep doing the same thing and ignore the risks of having goals that no one can truly understand or measure.
Do you have another reason I missed?
I first came across the term weasel word when I started following Stacey Barr, the performance specialist expert from Australia. She discovered that weasel words within strategy were causing many of the performance measurement struggles people were having in their organizations. The words blur the understanding of what the organization is trying to achieve, and if you are not clear on what you are trying to achieve, then you will have real trouble measuring it!
So what is the alternative? Give your corporate–speak goal a well-defined result statement to go with it, and make sure you write it in language that a Grade 5 student can understand.
Here is an example:
Goal: Enhance supply reliability and quality
Translated performance result to go with it for one energy company:
- Customers experience uninterrupted supply
- Customers’ equipment is not damaged by voltage fluctuations
De-weaseling your goals is the single most important thing you can do to improve your strategy and its execution!