Language counts: don't let it get fuzzy

 By William Seidman I’m helping several clients right now that are suffering (and I do mean suffering) from the same problem – language and lingo that confuses rather than clarifies. In each of these cases there is a project which everyone agrees is important. It’s funded and has resources.   Sounds pretty near perfect, doesn’t it? Yet in each of these cases, the projects are in real trouble:  behind schedule, immersed in conflict and unlikely to succeed.  I listened to the conversations and was confused by jargon. For example, one of them, a sales force transformation from product selling to solution selling, there are at least 4 interpretations of the term “account management.”

  • IT defines it as a category in the CRM and order tracking system,
  • to sales management it means the ability to track account activity,
  • to sales it means the ability establish personal relationships, and
  • to service it means having complete information about the accounts history.
All of these are correct in isolation, but the participants in the project really can’t tell what is meant when the term is used outside of their sector. Logically, but unfortunately, this extends to the objective and alignment of the work. If you ask 15 different people in any of these efforts what the objective of the project is you get 15 different answers, but all using the same terminology. This gets incredibly confusing. Did they say the same thing or not?  And when you then try to determine if the work is progressing toward the objective, you can’t tell because literally no one knows. Fix thisGo back to the real purpose of the effort.  Make it very clear. Define terms. The first time language is used in a way that confuses, blow a whistle and clean it up. You’ll save a lot of time and money if you do this.  ]]>

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