When a letter makes us forget what matters

ASAP, CRM, KPI….whether in our professional or personal lives, we love acronyms that we use all day long.

The acronym, precise, conveys a context

The acronym has an advantage: it is short, easier to write, easier to pronounce. Some will also tell you that it gives a tone to our words, conveys a context. As soon as possible is good, ASAP is still more “slamming” and the sound spreads a sense of urgency. Talking about CRM KPIs sounds more professional than talking about key customer relationship indicators, apart from the fact that it is shorter. In any case, it creates a barrier between “those who know” and “those who don’t know” what we are talking about.

And then the acronym helps to put anglicisms at the end of every sentence without using an English word. I am not at all part of those who declare war on anglicisms and I find that many of them convey a context that the French translation, although accurate, does not convey, in the same way that Anglo-Saxons are fond of French words in certain professions. But at least the acronym allows the use of a foreign word that I would describe as stealth.

Concentrated, shortened, the acronym would therefore give strength and precision to our words. In fact, not at all.

The acronym makes us lose sight of the meaning of things

The problem with the acronym is that by concentrating on the letters we forget the words and when we forget the words we lose the meaning of things. And when we lose the meaning of things we do any damn thing because, once again as Albert Camus said, “to name things badly is to add to the misfortunes of the world”.

Some common examples.

ASAP : As soon as POSSIBLE

Everybody knows this one, or almost. What amuses me about it is that between the one who uses it and the one who hears it, it doesn’t usually mean the same thing. Why is that? We forget that the P stands for Possible.

When someone says “ASAP” they often mean “immediately” without daring to say it. The person to whom it is addressed will understand “as soon as possible” which may mean in a certain time.

Personally, I always smile when someone says “ASAP”. I know the person usually means “right away or almost”, but if I take the term literally depending on my schedule and priorities I say to myself ” within two weeks at best…”.

KPI : KEY Performance Indicator

We are in a society that is addicted to measurement and something tells me that it is more to give ourselves the illusion that we are in control than to have indicators that allow us to understand how things are really going.

When we talk about defining the KPIs of a device, I often see people come up with 10, 20, 50… figures they would like to see on a dashboard. My opinion, but this is just my point of view, is that when you track 40 indicators you don’t see anything. It makes you feel good to say you’re looking at everything, but when you’re looking at everything you see nothing.

As Yves Morieux noted Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated: in 1955, companies had between 4 and 7 performance imperatives, compared to between 25 and 50 today. 50% of which are contradictory.

In short, in KPI the K stands for Key and everyone forgets it in favor of the I for Indicators! In my opinion there are 3 KPIs maximum for anything. After that, you can have a lot of 2nd or 3rd level indicators to go deeper when necessary but to embrace a situation at a glance, to know if things are going well or not and to decide to dig deeper or not, 3 figures are enough.

CRM : Customer RELATIONSHIP Management

CRM sometimes means “Crew Relationship Management”. This is part of the vocabulary of the airline world and I think that many companies and managers should learn this discipline which is specific to pilots and which allows them to communicate and collaborate effectively under stress.

But most often for us CRM means “Customer RELATIONSHIP Management”.

The problem is that in most cases we don’t pretend to manage the relationship but the customer. We want names and contact information to measure sales performance and knock people out with marketing campaigns. The R disappears from the reflection.

What is missing in customer relations in many companies is precisely the R. Manage the relationship with the customer not in a transactional and quantitative way but in a relational and qualitative way.

RH : HUMAN Resources

Well yes, the H in HR stands for “human”. The truth is that many people focus on the “resource” while ignoring the human aspect. Or the art of believing you can fit the world into a spreadsheet!

Companies have an administrative knowledge of their employees without really knowing them as people. The same criticism, if we force the line a little, for the management of restrictions due to COVID in certain countries, including France: not because they are devoid of rationality in the absolute, but because they (or those who decide on them) ignore the fact that they are addressed and applied to human beings.

In businesses, we already have ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, which were originally developed in the industrial world to manage “non-human” resources such as machines and raw materials. If, on the other hand, HR departments are equipping themselves with HRIS, it is not to manage human beings like any other resource. And yet…

The joke in this story is that I think companies know a lot more about their machines, their history, not only their performance but also how they were maintained, how they were repaired, how they were taken care of than they do about their employees. As I have heard it said before, “we keep track of our machines much better than we do of our employees”.

In short, when you manage human resources with the same principles as you manage “non-human” resources, you end up doing it in an inhuman way.

OKR : Objectives and KEY Results

Another “Key” that is lost in the process. If you don’t know about OKRs, it’s a system for defining and managing objectives that allows their alignment and convergence at all levels of the company. If you haven’t already looked into it, you should.

But once again, once the objectives have been defined, we sometimes see dozens of “key results” blithely confusing results with the things to be done to achieve them. And in the end, you don’t find your way around, you get lost and you don’t track anything.

MVP : MINIMUM viable product

With agile methods gradually expanding their footprint in the business, the notion of MVP is becoming more and more common.

I am not talking about the “Most Valuable Player” cherished by US sports but about the “Minimum Viable Product”.

The principle is simple: the most minimalist product works and does what it was designed to do. This allows you to deliver something functional quickly and improve it incrementally afterwards rather than taking months or years to deliver a final, perfect product that will arrive too late or won’t fit the need.

But when it comes to defining what an MVP is for a given project I see people focusing on the V of viable and forgetting the M of Minimum.

The question is, of course, whether the product is viable, but any product is viable in its “maximum” version, when one has begun to add “nice to have” to “must have”. The objective of the MVP is to define the moment when the most minimalist expression of the project goes from “non-viable” (we can’t put it in the hands of the users) to viable (the product will do what the users expect it to do even without frills).

Once again, we see MVPs with a list of features that resemble an endless inventory that only consumes resources to develop it and postpone its release.

Learn to weigh each word

My intention is not to fight against acronyms, on the contrary, if we didn’t have them we would be annoyed.

However, when you use them, remember each of the words that compose them and ask yourself which one is the most important, if you really take them all into account, if you don’t miss something.


By the way, are there any other acronyms that you see being misused on a daily basis?

Image : Acronyms by OneSideProFoto via shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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