Weasel words are words that have no specific and obvious and singular meaning. They bring no clear images to mind of what is meant. Words like: effective, sustainable, harnessed, connectedness and leveraged. Weasel words have a stupifying effect on people’s understanding of goals that are written with them, as well as rendering those goals immeasurable.
If your goals or objectives (the things you’re trying to measure) contain words like these, you are either struggling to find meaningful measures, or you don’t realise that the measures you have aren’t meaningful. Here’s but a sample:
…accelerate, accessibility, accountability, active, adaptive, advocating, affective, alignment, balanced, barriers, basic, benchmarked, benefits, best practice, brand (image), capacity, centrality, challenges, change, client-driven, collaborative, compelling, competence, competitive, connectedness, considered, consultative, continuing, core, delivery, demonstrated, deployable, dis-established, diversity, drive, dynamic, effective, efficient, embedded, empowered, enablers, end-to-end, end-user, evidence-based, focus, foster, empowered, engaged, enhancements, excellence, fit for purpose, flexibility, flourish, forward-looking, fundamental, going forward, gold-plating, governance, ground-breaking, growth, harness, harvested, high-value, holistic, implications, improvements, inclusive, initiation, innovative, input, integration, integrity, interdependent, interface, issues, key, lean, leveraged, livability, mandated, needs, network, opportunities, optimised, outcomes, outputs, oversighting, ownership, pathways, participation, performance, priority-driven, proactive, processes, productivity, products, progression, progressive, quality, reanimate, recognition, re-engerise, reform, reliability, renewal, responsibility, responsive, rich, rigourous, roadmap, robust, significant, solution, special, standards, strategically, streamlined, strengthened, strong, successful, supported, sustainable, synergies, targeted, transformation, translational, transparent, underpinning, uniqueness, utilised, value, value-added, vanilla solutions, vibrant, wellbeing, winning, world-class, zoomify…
Goals written with weasel words sound like the following examples (‘harvested’ from the first few pages of Google search results for the terms ‘strategic plan 2013’ and ‘corporate plan 2013’). I’ve highlighed the words that, before we tried to design measures or KPIs, I would ask my client to explain the meaning of:
To measure weasely goals like these, you have to replace the weasel words with words that describe what you would see or detect in some way if your goal was actually achieved. If you can’t replace them (the "our plan is already cast in stone" situation), then you have to at least translate or define them.
Here are three tips for how to de-weasel your goals:
Tip #1: Write down everyone’s answer to the question "what does this mean?" If those answers have more weasel words in them, ask the question again. And again. And again. Until you don’t have any weasel words left.
Tip #2: Explain your goals to a 10-year old until they can rearticulate those goals in their own words. Maybe their words are the best words to use?
Tip #3: List examples of what those weasel words are trying to describe. Detailed and specific examples. Even if you have dozens of them. Which examples best describe the result implied by your weasely goal? Rewrite the goal more closely based on the words from those best examples.
De-weaseling your goals is the single best thing you can do to finde measures that are sensible and useful in achieving those goals!
Are you brave enough to share a weasely goal or two from your organisation? If you are, post it on the blog and I will respond with tips to help you de-weasel it.
We will continuously improve the way we do business, targeting resources at improving oral health and moving from ‘good to great’ services.
To contiute to improving oral health, we with our service delivery partners will ensure that the highest quality services are provided.
Monika, here are some tips:
“We will continuously improve the way we do business, targeting resources at improving oral health and moving from ‘good to great’ services.”
— The weasel words in this goal that you need to define clearly are ‘the way we do business’, ‘targeting resources’ and ‘oral health’. It’s actually a very multi-focus goal that really does comprise many different specific performance results. It won’t be measurable until you can split out there performance results individually and write them in very specific language.
“To contiute to improving oral health, we with our service delivery partners will ensure that the highest quality services are provided.”
— The most important part of this goal to clearly define is ‘highest quality services’ – quality is a common word but a weasel word as it comprises many MANY different attributes like friendliness, helpfulness, accuracy, reliability, speed or promptness, and so on.
Hope this helps.
Outcome: More effective work among National Societies through modernised cooperation mechanisms and tools, and a greater sense of belonging, ownership, and trust in our International Federation.
Josse, this outcome is very multi-focused and does have a few weasel words too! Here are some tips:
- Is this outcome about the ‘end’ of effective work… or is it about the ‘means’ of cooperation, belonging, ownership and trust? Which parts do you want to measure and monitor to improve?
- If you want to measure all the parts, both the means and the end, then you’ll need to treat each part individually, and articulate what they mean in a tangible way. You can’t measure it if it’s not tangible or observable in some way.
Try this Stacey,
“To strengthen our operational efficiency and effectiveness to the level of global best practices that would deliver triple bottom line”
“To maximize market share from 10% to 50% in the current industry by offering unique value proposition that comprise of Innovativeness, Differentiation, Competitiveness, Completeness in our products and services to our existing and potential customers through a proper Customer Engagement Program within the financial year and; to develop new market entries within the region by leveraging on our partners’ network by 2015”