Business and Management Terminology:
Demystifying the Confusion

My online research has revealed that there are a lot of people out there searching for information on how to write key documents and statements that are used to manage companies and organizations every day.

I'm not talking about business reports or business proposals here; I'm referring to key management terms that, when applied, usually result in the creation of reports and proposals. Terms like: mission, vision, objectives, goals, strategies, results, policies, guidelines, directives, procedures, standards, and more.

If your organization uses terms such as "corporate mission" or "corporate objective", you probably know how important it is to have a common understanding of these terms and how to write them in clear and consistent language.

Buzzwords Baffle Brains…
In one of my previous incarnations in the world of bureaucracy I was in charge of strategic planning and policy development for an entire organization. It wasn't long before I realized that most people in the organization were throwing around all kinds of management "buzzwords" without us having a collective understanding of what the other folks in the organization were talking about. It turned out that one person's "vision" was another person's "mission"; what were corporate goals for some, were corporate objectives for others.

These misunderstandings and/or misalignments of terminology permeated the entire organization, from senior management, right on down to the people who were doing the actual work. In fact, if you took the time to read through an array of corporate documents; from operational plans at the working level, to strategic plans at the overall corporate level, it was impossible to clearly align them due to the widespread misuse of key corporate terminology.

Because of this situation, when it came to developing the key statements and documents that were needed to manage the organization and communicate its priorities and plans, the right-hand most often didn't know what the left-hand was doing.

Getting On The Same Page
Realizing the seriousness of this problem in our organization, the big boss asked me to conduct research into this subject and come up with a proposed "hierarchy of management terminology" that we could all buy into and use in a consistent fashion.

That's exactly what I did. It took a few drafts and a lot of discussion between drafts, but eventually we did develop a set of "Guidelines For the Use of Standard Management Terminology" to be used by everyone in the organization. The guidelines we developed divided the key management terms into two overall categories: Management Terms and Organizational Facilitators.

The six(6) key management terms included in this first group are all used to describe the priorities, activities and outputs of an organization. Theses terms are: vision, mission, objectives, goals, strategies and results.

The second group of terms is made up of five(5) "facilitators" which are actual tools or instruments used by an organization to implement the organizational imperatives that are specified by the hierarchy of management terms above. These management facilitators are: policies, guidelines, directives, procedures and standards.

As I stated above, I spent a lot of time researching this lexicon of terms and facilitators. Although other approaches do exist, I believe that the one that I was involved in developing embodies a certain logic and symmetry that can be employed by any type of organization, large or small; for defining, executing, and evaluating its corporate mandate and activities.

Of course, the most important lesson here is how important it is to the well-functioning of any organization that everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to widely used management terminology.

If you are interested in a more detailed discussion of these terms, check out the link after this paragraph. There you will find the following additional information: short definitions for each term, links to individual pages for each term containing additional background, examples of how to use the term, and tips on how to write the statements or documents that utilize the management term being described.

(C) Shaun Fawcett is Webmaster of two of the most visited writing-help websites on the Net and the author of numerous "how-to" books on everyday practical writing. His Business Letter Writing Kit with is a leading resource on how to write and format business letters for all types of business situations.

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