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Breaking Organisations with Corporate Speak

There is a major problem in organisations, and we need to fix it. It is a problem so major that it is going to take years to fix it, and in some organisations it will be fatal, and they just will not make it I am afraid. The challenge is that the issue is not immediately obvious, first it pops up in one area of the business and then before you know it's on another and another and then the entire organisation is littered with it to the point nothing really seems to make sense any more.

It is actually a common affliction that hits many systems globally, it is called WFO and yes, without treatment it can be fatal! WFO, or Written For Others, is what happens when you write your critical organisational information for shareholders, potential investors or potential clients or anyone who isn't actually going to use it, it's when you turn everything you should be using to do good stuff into a marketing exercise, WFO is an addiction and it's a really bad one.

It always starts in the Company Mission, Vision, Values area of companies where they look to create sound bites that will look great on company posters and shareholder prospectuses, and include little ditties like "we will maximise shareholder value by", or "Invest our Capital Wisely" or "We can only move forward" and of course everyone's favourite "Our people are our greatest resource". All these things sound great but really, what do they actually mean?

The compliance systems often fall next to WFO. They are written, not for the users but, for other people like auditors, customers, suppliers or even investors but not for the actual user. They are filled with pages upon pages of corporate speak to bulk out the document as much as possible, another side effect of WFO is that the thickness of documents multiplies in direct relationship to the number of non-users the documents are written to impress. A quality statement that could be 2 or 3 lines of text suddenly becomes a page or a page and a half of corporate speak which doesn't actually say anything anyway, but obviously must be good because there is a lot of words there.

So, what are the effects of WFO? Well they are severe are can include:

  • A breakdown in good company culture (if you had one to start with)
  • Disengagement by staff – productivity hits a downward spiral
  • High Levels of non-compliance – issues in Safety, Quality, and behaviours / Culture
  • Increase in company Silo's - hence more politics and in fighting
  • Increases in customer dissatisfaction because your organisation is not performing - probably linked to the spin that you gave them in the 1st place
  • Failures of external audits - because you wrote stuff that no one understands or follows
  • loss of orders – see all of the above
  • loss of staff – see all of the above

The Cure 

Thankfully there is a simple sure for WFO that we have been prescribing for all of our clients, it's called WFU or Writing for Users and is naturally occurring when you give people the freedom to actually write for themselves and involve those doing the jobs in the process.
If you actually write your vision, mission, values, policies, management systems, processes, procedures, SOP and so on for the people who are going not use them in the language that they understand and is used within your organisation then guess what, they will get used!

Value statements that truly reflect the real values that exist in an organisation and worded in a way that means something to the organisation are worth their weight in gold, it doesn't matter that those outside the organisation don't know what they mean. One of our clients has a value statement of "Grow the Green" which came from one of the team on the floor, it reminds them that as an organisation they want to factor environmental considerations into everything they do, another client has "Making Gran Proud" which reflects the teams view that they should only ever be doing things and behaving in a way that would, well, make their Gran proud and trust me it's a great barometer and a lovely conversation to have. They are not corporate speak, they are user speak and everyone knows what they mean.

Yet another client developed their quality policy with the whole team getting input, all 50 of them, the final policy says: "Quality is what we expect from each other, in everything we do and in everyone we work with. We will write sensible processes and policies with no BS and we will ask people how we are doing both internally and out, and we'll keep pushing to do better."Incidentally, they use the same policy to help determine who they are going to hire!

When you read documents within your organisation they should sound like, well, your organisation, like the way that people in your organisation speak. You do that by thinking about who they are for and who is the right person to write them. It's often not the people sitting in the office (normally in a dimly lite one!) churning out process after process or in so many cases downloading template after template and then not converting them to useable speak that should be writing them, it should be the people actually doing the jobs.

The benefits of this approach are obvious, people feel involved, they feel valued, like things are written for them with the intention to be useful. Processes written this way get used and things get followed through and corrected when wrong, that means your customer gets what is written down in your systems. When the auditors come and ask questions, they get the answers that reflect your system because your team wrote it and they wrote it in a way that makes sense for them


Stop writing for others and start Writing for Users and see the difference in the adoption and continuous improvement happening in your systems which ultimately will flow to your customers.


Get In Touch

If you need any support in developing or improving your ISO or Quality Systems we'd love to hear from you, just click here to make an appointment and find out how we can help you Make Things, Better

You can also call John on 0211649739 to set up a meeting 

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Monday, 26 October 2020

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