CEOs: You'd better watch your language
Why precision matters in business communication
Growing up in Minnesota, shoveling snow was a frequent activity. But my mother’s definition of shoveling the driveway wasn’t quite the same as mine. I figured if there were two tracks for tires we were good to go. She thought that visible concrete was a beautiful thing and wanted the entire drive cleared. I say po-ta-toes, you say po-tah-toes — let’s call the whole thing off!
My mother was a large, assertive German woman, so I quickly adopted her definition of shoveling.
I recently heard a CEO mention the problems caused by two teams on her staff with differing definitions of complete in their software development efforts. One team thought complete meant packaged, priced and ready to ship, but another team thought a beta test would suffice. One believed the requirements document should be exhaustive and comprehensive; the other thought there were some universal common sense elements that didn’t need memorializing.
We often get hung up in business because we don’t get on the same page regarding language and definitions. If you’re a surgeon and are told to take out that gelatinous red thing, do you remove the liver, heart or gall bladder? Precision counts on the operating table.
Here are some language challenges that I’ve seen over the past few years:
If you run a division, is success hitting the budget, reaching the forecast (or reforecast), 10 percent year-over-year growth or a few more customers?
If you lead a sales group, does a new rep get credit for activity, or is it only revenue or profit? Does a customer complaint wipe out success with the sales target?
What’s a new product? Do shapes, colors and sizes count, or is it a completely new gizmo? If you’re a publisher, is a new book a new product?
If you’re a CEO, how will you know when your workforce is engaged? When will your brand be more valuable? When will you have the talent you need to succeed? Over what time period do you measure ROI?
A large leadership challenge is managing considerable ambiguity yet providing as much clarity as possible for teammates and customers. At a minimum, use consistent and clearly defined language.
Okay, I got that blog post done! (Or was I supposed to send it out?) I think I’ll go mow the lawn — at least part of it.