Archive | Language

Three Business Terms I Promise Not to Use

Call me a heretic, especially considering my line of work, but I’m about to share three terms that make my eyes roll back in my head:

Mission Critical

Critical Success Factors

Key Performance Indicators (and its evil acronym, “KPIs”)

Don’t get me wrong. The ideas behind these terms are valuable. But they are overused, and unfortunately (too often) used to impress people and protect sacred cows.

Mission Critical

What does it mean? It’s pretty self-explanatory: Something is critical to the success of your mission. Ah, but one should never use a word in its own definition. According to Wikipedia, it is “any factor of a system (equipment, process, procedure, software, etc.) whose failure will result in the failure of business operations.” The label lends an immediate air of importance to whatever it has been applied.

And, in my experience, it is too frequently used just to make something sound important; it is applied to things without any justification; and too often (in my humble opinion) organizations focus on projects and objectives that have been deemed Mission Critical without either articulating that Mission or involving their people with the Mission.

I recently was Followed on Twitter by an impressive leadership consultant and coach. I followed him back, but almost revoked it when I saw “mission-critical” in his web-page’s About section. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt when I saw that his most recent blog post was about passion.

Critical Success Factors

Again, that’s a pretty self-explanatory term: Critical Success Factors are things (people, processes, accomplishments, etc.,) that are critical to the success of your Mission Critical thing. Or, as Wikipedia says, “Critical success factors are those few things that must go well to ensure success for a manager or an organization.”

Again, this is an important label. Pronouncing something a Critical Success Factor says that without this person, process, accomplishment, etc., our seriously important thing is Doomed to Failure.

The real danger is not the snooze-factor that comes from over-use of this term. The real danger is its dialogue-stopping, investigation-stopping power. This Critical Success Factor is too important to question. We must protect it because it is, well, critical.

Key Performance Indicators

This is a relatively innocuous term that, like the others, simply means what it says on the surface: A Key Performance Indicator is a measurement (item on a report) that tells us how we’re doing. Not only in general but, because it’s a Key Performance Indicator, it must be about one of our Mission Critical, Critical Success Factors.

Wikipedia differentiates between Critical Success Factors and Key Performance Indicators in this way: “Critical success factors are elements that are vital for a strategy to be successful” whereas “KPIs, on the other hand, are measures that quantify management objectives and enable the measurement of strategic performance.”

Here, too, there is a danger that comes with the aura of Super-Importance conferred by the term itself. This measurement is a Key Performance Indicator and so we must give special attention to collecting the data around it and make decisions based upon what it tells us. Too often, though, other important signposts are overlooked.

This term, like the first two, is too often used by managers and consultants alike to confer importance on not only the items under discussion but on themselves as well.

For example, I was once telling a colleague about a process I was planning to help a client identify the skills that had the biggest impact on team members’ ability to do their jobs and which of those skills should be focused on for training or coaching.

“Oh, you mean the KPI’s,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, you should say that, then,” she said. “Otherwise your clients won’t respect you.”

Seriously?

Common language can be valuable, and…

Having common language can be very valuable. I encourage everyone, however, to be curious the next time you hear or read one of these terms, and ask a lot of questions:

What IS our mission?

Are we all on the same page with that?

How do we know?

Is this “mission critical” process, achievement, or (fill in the blank) really vital to that mission?

How do we know?

What are the things (people, processes, attitudes, perceptions, accomplishments, etc.) that are vital to that mission?

Are they measurable? How?

How will we define success?

What have we overlooked?

These are just some examples. There are many more that can (and should) be asked, and the asking, the curiosity, is the important part.

Here is an exercise for you

The next time you hear the term “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor” or “Key Performance Indicator,” see if you can find another way to say it. Then ask whether that term applies to the thing in question.

Powerful Language

The terms “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor” and “Key Performance Indicator” seem like powerful language, but they are not. At least, not the power I choose.

I choose powerful language that makes people sit up and say, “Yeah!” “I can’t wait to find out!” “I want to know! So we can build something important!”

Do the terms “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor” and “Key Performance Indicator” do that for you?

If I’m talking with a client who manages an auto-body shop, or a salon, or a law firm, do you think he or she wants me to impress them with fancy words and jargon? No, I suspect not. So far they have responded enthusiastically to plain English.

My Promise

I promise never to use the terms “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor,” or “Key Performance Indicator.” If I do, you have my permission snore very loudly. And then drive me crazy with questions.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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I Just Realized…

I once wrote a piece about how my expectations can shape my beliefs about reality. (You can read it here.) I recently re-read it, and I looked at the following sentence and had to pause: “It isn’t until the curtains are opened and it is proven to me that the streets are actually dry that I realize it really isn’t raining.”

“I realize that it really isn’t raining.”

It wasn’t until I saw the word “realize” next to the word “really” that I noticed that the root of the word “realize” is the word “real.”

“Um, yeah,” you might say, “That’s pretty obvious. And your point is?”

Well, my point is that in an instant my understanding of the word “realize” shifted. I previously thought of it as a synonym for something occurring to me. To say “I realized that…” was the same as to say, “It dawned on me that…” But to say that an idea – or a dream – was made real is a much stronger idea, a much stronger statement.

When a word has “ize” at the end, it means that something has been made into something else.

So, to real-ize a dream is to turn a dream into reality.

And to real-ize an idea is to allow that idea to become a concrete thing, a real possibility, a part of my reality.

I have embarked on a path to real-ize my dream of learning to play the banjo. In the process, thanks to the support I am receiving from friends about this project, I have real-ized in a new way that people love me and want to help.

What have you real-ized lately?

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The Beauty – and the Danger – of Woo-Woo

This post was triggered by a post written by my friend and soul-sister, Jenny Bones. It has become one of those topics that started burning a hole in my pocket to the point that I couldn’t get to anything else until I took it out.

Jenny’s post What’s Wrong With a Little Woo? (at her new website, an exciting change of direction for her) hit a nerve with me.

I am, among other things, an Organization Development (OD) consultant. And even though that sounds mighty Proper and Official, people in OD (and HR and Training and Development, and all the associated tracks) are sometimes looked down upon by The Corporate World as being, well, woo-woo. Touchy-feely. We deal with feelings. And soft skills. (Among other things.) Sometimes the work we do isn’t perceived as being “closest to the dollar” (or anywhere near it, except as an expense). Dealing with and overcoming this perception is not an unusual topic at professional meetings and trainings.

So I wasn’t surprised when I went to a workshop last fall called Become an Inspiring Speaker (which was FABULOUS) that there was a lot of self-deprecating humor among participants and presenters about being perceived as being woo-woo. What did surprise me was that when someone would ask, “What does that mean?” or challenge the use of the term, people would kind of hem and haw and change the subject.

“Woo-woo” is one of those terms that everyone kind of knows the definition of.

“Woo-woo” is one of those slang terms that everyone kind of knows the definition of, but here are a couple of official definitions (from the Internet, which is never wrong):

Wiktionary.org says: “It has been suggested that “woo woo” is intended to imitate the eerie background music of sci-fi/horror films and television shows, however the exact origin is uncertain.” It gives the definition as: “(Decribing) A person readily accepting supernatural, paranormal, occult, or pseudoscientific phenomena, or emotion-based beliefs and explanations.”

The Skeptic’s Dictionary says, “When used by skeptics, woo-woo is a derogatory and dismissive term used to refer to beliefs one considers nonsense or to a person who holds such beliefs… But mostly the term is used for its emotive content and is an emotive synonym for such terms as nonsense, irrational, nutter, nut, or crazy.”

Nice, huh? The problem is, what is considered nonsense is relative. It can be applied to anything that isn’t mainstream, left-brain and “close to the dollar.”

“Be Who You Be”

In Jenny’s post, she takes a stand that you should “be who you be” and not be afraid of being woo-woo if that’s who you are. I agree! She went on to say,

“When we edit ourselves and our marketing message in the hopes we’ll attract a larger audience we risk losing everything. More often than not, we end up missing our target completely.”

With that I agree… and I disagree. Here’s why.

I agree that we should represent ourselves authentically and not try to convince others that we are something we are not. Or that we are not something we are. We can only connect with our Right People by letting ourselves shine.

But And I also believe that we should carefully select the language we use and be wary of using terms that have negative baggage – not only because it can scare new Right People away, but also because it reinforces the monster voices in our heads that call us names. It makes it more difficult to fully embrace and describe with pride Who We Are and What We Bring to the Work We Do.

Simply put, it’s the term woo-woo that bothers me.

It’s the term “woo-woo” that bothers me.

So I left a comment on Jenny’s blog and told a story about a group of consultants and coaches with whom I meet regularly. At one of our meetings, where we were working on ideas for promoting our businesses, we kept using the term “woo-woo” in a self-demeaning way. So we had a reframing exercise to see if we could shift the way we thought of the term, and of ourselves. And in the process we came up with a lot of very useful terms to use instead of “woo-woo.”

It was a very powerful exercise, as it helped us to take more pride and ownership in what we do as well as giving us new language to use with people who hunger for more than black-and-white, either-or, numbers-driven, left brain solutions.

I should have anticipated it, but several people replied to my comment asking about what some of those words were.

So I went back to my cohorts and asked if they minded if I wrote about this. Their support was unanimous, and one responded with, “I’m totally in support of it, and, in fact, would love it if you DID mention us — not names and details, but that you are a member of a fabulous group of intuitively-oriented goddesses with our feet firmly on the ground.

I couldn’t have put it better myself! So here we go with more about the reframing exercise:

We brainstormed as many synonyms as we could for “woo-woo.”  Not necessarily concrete definitions, but any term that came to mind that we associated with “woo-woo.” A volunteer record-keeper wrote them down in a word cloud as fast as we blurted them out.

At first they were mostly words that are negative – or might be perceived as negative by The Corporate World – including words like “unrealistic,” “joke,” “scary,” “mysterious,” “unprovable,” “touchy-feely,” “girlie,” “psychic,” “dangerous,” “evil,” “witch,” and “wimpy.”

But even before we stopped to intentionally redirect ourselves to listing more “positive” terms, those terms started tumbling out until we had more positive terms than negative terms. Overflowing positive terms!

Then we went back through the word cloud and circled those positive terms to help them stand out. They include “curious,” “power,” “quantum physics,” “universal,” “authentic,” “honest,” “real,” “expansive, “right brain,” “passion,” “joy,” “present,” “intercultural,” “love,” “light,” and “connection.” Those are just a few; a copy of the actual page is below:

What a difference! By the end of ten minutes we had shifted the language we were using and the way we were presenting ourselves, and we pledged to only use the positive terms when marketing ourselves going forward.

What’s my point?

The world includes – must include – both yin and yang. We have both a left brain and a right brain.

There are a lot of people in The Corporate World, as well as small businesses, solopreneurs, and individuals, who want and need what we bring. We can authentically speak to them in languages they can understand.

So, embrace who you are and what you bring to your work! That enthusiasm is contagious! As Jenny said, “You are the only thing that’s unique about your business. Market it. Celebrate it. Believe in it.”

Use language that celebrates who you are and what you bring to your work. If that includes the term “woo-woo,” Yay You! But if using that term is just an excuse to kick yourself in the shins or justify your lack of success because They see you as “woo-woo,” then Not-Yay.

If the rebel in you wants to proudly wear the badge of Woo-Woo, go for it! But think carefully about whether or not it is an excuse to have your “No One Will Ever Buy From Me” cake and eat it too.

Re-framing can be a powerful exercise for getting unstuck and looking at something in a new way. Language is important – and powerful.

Take it from a “fabulous group of intuitively-oriented goddesses with our feet firmly on the ground.”

Do you truly embrace what you do and invite others to share in it? How have you used a re-framing exercise to change how you look at things? Please leave a comment!

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