High performance organizations also pay attention to their business “language” – both terms and acronyms. They know that misunderstandings can create errors, process inconsistencies, misinterpretations; add cost; and create wear and tear on relationships. In fact, research by the assessment group, Cognisco, estimated that misunderstandings cost U.S. and U.K. firms $30+bn annually.
Does your organization actively work to create understanding of its’ business language? Consider:
- Terms. Every organization uses many ‘common’ business terms like customer, quality, value, cost, etc. Can your employees clearly define the ‘common’ business terms used in your organization? Example – who are your customers? Are there internal, external, or both? How are they different than distributors or retailers?
Terms are also introduced with each new initiative started in your organization. For example, if your organization has or is deploying Six Sigma methodology or Lean manufacturing, it will literally introduce hundreds of new terms into your organizational vocabulary. Memorizing and/or reciting these terms are not enough for high performance – there must be a clear understanding of what each means and how to impact it.
- Acronyms and Abbreviations. According to the website “Acronym Finder”, there are more than 5 million acronyms and abbreviations out there – and it’s constantly growing. Acronyms can save time – but they also can create “exclusion” (only some people regularly use and understand) versus “inclusion.” Acronyms may have different meaning in different parts of your business. For example, OD in manufacturing is outside diameter – in HR it is organizational development or design. Acronyms are also used frequently in metrics which are critical in measurement, evaluation, comparison, and continuous improvement.
Below are five lessons I coach organizations to master in their communication activities:
- Start Day 1. Language should be introduced in orientation processes and reinforced throughout on-boarding.
- Create one safe reference source. On-line is great but the key is to have each business discipline accountable for maintaining its content.
- Translate “intent” not actual words. Some words may not translate into every language you use in your business. For example, employee engagement does not have a literal translation in Spanish, but employee commitment, effort, and loyalty (components of engagement) does.
- Remember 7X. Critical messages have to be repeated at least seven times for the average person to retain it and understand it’s truly important.
- Ask the right question. Avoid asking employees if they understand a term or acronym. Instead, ask for the specific detail you want them to remember.
Food labels help us make better choices, if we truly understand their content and meaning. The same is true for organizational communication – e-mails, presentations, reports, meetings, web based, videos, etc. Minimize employees asking, “What does it really mean”, by creating and maintaining your organization’s common business language. It will save time, cost, and frustration!