Management Articles


What I Really Meant Was...

By: Brian Ward

Brian Ward is a principal in Affinity Consulting. He helps leaders, teams and individuals acquire new knowledge and wisdom through their consulting and educational work. He can be reached at t

Ask your co-workers, friends and customers how they define the following, and prepare to be surprised by the diversity of answers you receive:
  • Quality

  • Standards

  • Strategy

  • Continuous Improvement

  • Reengineering

  • Teamwork

  • Customer Satisfaction
Is it any wonder that most organizations struggle with these areas? If we cannot clearly define and agree upon the common meaning attached to these words (and numerous others like them), then they become just buzzwords. Any attempt to translate strategy into action by using them becomes bogged down in miscommunication, resulting in misdirected effort which can sometimes be fatal to your efforts.

Most people will roll their eyes when someone suggests that they take time out of their busy days to engage in a discussion regarding definitions around the various buzzwords in circulation today (sometimes referred to as 'operational definitions'). But without clear meaning, communications become extremely fuzzy. And fuzziness can kill your efforts at performance improvement.

What can you do to engage people in such essential discussions, without having them roll their eyes? Here are 7 ways in which you can get their attention and involvement:
  1. Provide clear examples from everyday work-life showing how miscommunication has caused problems. For example, do you and your customers agree on a definition of 'quality'?

  2. Provide a starter set of definitions, which the team can beat into shape. No sense in reinventing the wheel.

  3. Give each team member the task of investigating one to two definitions each and report back to the team. There are many resources on the web.

  4. Have the team develop 'illustrative examples' of the definitions in practice in their individual areas.

  5. Find out what other organizations have done, and benefits they have gained from working with operational definitions.

  6. Provide a small library of books, articles and journals on quality, reengineering, teamwork, continuous improvement, etc. which will allow people to explore the deeper meaning of these words and phrases. Keep the materials in sight and on the lunch room, meeting rooms etc.

  7. Keep it simple. Have fun. Try the Mission Statement Generator on the Dilbert web site as a way to lighten things up! Heck, even have a contest to see who can come up with the most confusing mission statement, using as many of the most common management buzzwords they can find!
Good luck with your efforts, or should I say "Good luck with your efforts to reengineer your operational definitions using a team based approach to continuous improvement of organizational communications"

© Copyright 2003 Affinity Consulting. All rights reserved.

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The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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