Fat Words

It is not particularly easy to reach agreement on things across a group of people. It takes time and effort to reach consensus. But as you struggle through the process, it is important to gain agreement without loss of clarity and to resist the siren lure of ‘Fat’ words.

‘Fat’ words are words which appear to represent something we can all agree on, but which in practice leave so much scope for individual interpretation that they are effectively vacuous. For instance, you may have seen the following words used in vision statements and advertising materials:
“… are the leading producer of …”
“… producing the best equipment …”
“… be the most successful company in this area…”
“… is the foremost supplier of …”
But what do “leading”, “best”, “most successful”, and “foremost” actually mean in practice?
Nobody is really going to argue against them, but imagine your goal was to be the best supplier of Electrical Equipment, how would you then set about prioritising the following: New computer systems, Market research, Initiatives to improve customer facing skills, Employee motivation programme, ISO 9000, …
The danger of ‘Fat’ words is that they appear to offer agreement, but what they actually do is move the real debate downstream to where people are far less well positioned to have the debate, and where its consequences in terms of wasted time and resources are greatly multiplied.
To avoid ‘Fat’ words, use the SMART tool as a checklist to ensure that all scope for ambiguity and conflicting interpretations have been removed. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-based:
  • Specific – A detailed action plan defining precisely what is to be achieved
  • Measurable – Clear criteria by which we can check whether we have been successful
  • Agreed – Owned by both the person who is to meet the objective, and the customers for it
  • Realistic – Practically possible given the constraints and resources available
  • Time-based – With clear milestones and dates to be met

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