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Update these 3 organizational buzzwords to shift perceptions

When was the last time you tried to define or explain a commonly used industry phrase or term?

For example, how would you define the phrase “pain points?” I might say to you, “What do you see as the pain points with this client?” Maybe you would see “pain points” as issues that may negatively impact performance. Or troubles that will prevent the relationship from flourishing. Both are solid answers; however, I would go a step further and not only determine what the pain points are, but decide who owns them and how they can be fixed.

Perhaps the pain point is lead sharing. How will the client share with the agency the number and quality of leads? How often? When we examine the meaning of the phrase more closely, maybe we can change the language to “improvement areas” to more accurately reflect what we’re trying to accomplish. In this case, how to fix (and not just assess) the issues we face.

I shared this example because I’m going to discuss three common phrases that set inaccurate or misguided assumptions. With all of these phrases, there are some truths, but they only go so far.

My goal is for you to assess your understanding of common business terms and determine if you can use better, more accurate phrases so that clearer expectations are set. Along with the three phrases, I’ll share my alternatives.

The phrase: Best practices
The alternative: Common practices

How does a best practice come to be? Does it tend to provide great results? Is it the most efficient way to do something? Or maybe a thought leader declares the method is the way it should be done? I would argue that “best” can easily be replaced with “common.” Best practices have come to be known this way because that’s simply how they are generally done.

“Common” has a much different meaning from “best.” If I were to tell you that I was going to use “common practices” to manage your account instead of “best practices,” you would probably feel less confident in my abilities. When people hear “best practices,” they assume the work will be done the right way. “Common” doesn’t instill that same confidence, even though that’s the more accurate adjective for these practices.

I’m not saying that “best practices” are necessarily wrong. In many cases, the practices are “best” because they are tried and true. For example, a “best practice” with Google AdWords is to create theme-based campaigns with well-structured ad groups. However, this may not be the case in every situation. Thus, it’s a “common practice” that is utilized most of the time, but it may not always be best for you.

“Common practices” says that the work is done in a certain way most of the time, but you should assess all methods before proceeding.

The phrase: Expert
The alternative: Specialist

Simply put, I’m not a fan of the term “expert.” It’s not so much the definition I’m against, but rather the perception it creates. The official definition from Merriam-Webster is:

Having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.

Is this definition what you think of when hearing that someone is an expert? I tend to think of experts as the best at what they do. They can answer most questions and solve problems because of their exceptional skill. In other words, they are who you go to or hire if you want answers and/or better results. The definition above downplays my perception (and I’m sure that of many others).

We instead should be using the term “specialist.” It doesn’t have the same pizazz as “expert,” but it sets expectations more accurately. A “specialist” focuses on a specific area. It doesn’t say that person is the best at what he/she does. Instead, the term tells others that this person specializes in a particular field.

I compare the perception of “specialist” to the phrase “underpromise and overdeliver.” Prove the quality of your work as you go.

The phrase: Breaking down silos
The alternative: Better collaboration between teams

I’m a firm believer that the various teams across companies need to work together better. For example, when members of the service and sales team work together, you generally set more realistic client expectations. Or if the marketing and services teams collaborate, the outgoing collateral should be more relevant. Saying that we need to “break down silos,” though, is not the right language.

The term “silos” suggests that each team works independently of others. Furthermore, to “break down silos” sounds like a tough task that only the brave can accomplish. I’m exaggerating a bit, but the saying seems to have too much bravado.

Teams can and should work together, but you don’t need to “break down silos.” All it takes is an effort to have better collaboration between teams. See if someone from another team will share their processes with you. Attend another team’s meeting. Or grab a coffee with someone on another team.

Final thoughts

You may think that I’m worrying too much about semantics. I’m not. Many of us tend to have preconceived notions that cloud our judgments. By simply rewording common phrases to describe the sentiment more accurately, we can approach tasks with an open mind.

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