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5 Worthless Acronyms to Ban From Your Business

Think you're stout of mind and strong of stomach? Let's find out.

See if you can make it to the end of the following list of business acronyms without recoiling in horror:

  • TQM
  • 5S
  • CI
  • QFD
  • JIT
  • QF
  • Six Sigma (granted not an acronym, but still)
If you didn't break into a cold sweat you obviously never worked for a big company.

In the 80s and 90s at R. R. Donnelley we started and abandoned so many improvement programs some of us quit learning the names and just called them YADA, or Yet Another (Darned) Acronym. (Imagine how well that went over in kickoff meetings.)

Each new program was touted as the ultimate path to improvement salvation... until the next breakthrough initiative came along, of course. While long-term success was limited, the programs weren't really the problem. The problem was a lack of commitment and follow through at the senior level. (Am I preaching to the choir yet?)

Acronym skepticism is automatic as long as we see the acronym coming. Unlike canned improvement programs, some acronyms are invisible but their effect on your business is all too real.

Let's take a look at some acronyms that might be killing your business -- or your career.

CLICK for the first business-killing acronym >>

Business Killing Acronym #1: NIH
Not Invented Here is a common organizational syndrome: If my company -- or I -- didn't think of it, it must be worthless. (A close cousin to NIH is IHBLR, Invented Here But Let's Reinvent It Anyway.)
Individuals also fall prey to NIH. Everyone has worked for a boss who hated any idea we proposed unless we found ways to make him think it was his idea.

NIH can affect anyone: Supervisors, managers, and especially executives and business owners -- because the root of all NIH evil is ego. The higher you rise, the greater the risk of NIH infection.

If you or your business has a chronic case of NIH, here are a few antidotes:

  • Focus on the idea, not the originator. People at all levels of the organization have good ideas. Assuming an entry-level employee's ideas will be worthless is just as foolish as assuming your boss always has great ideas. Gold wrapped in cellophane is just as valuable as gold wrapped in velvet; the value is in the gold. With ideas, value is in the idea, not where the idea comes from.
  • Focus on the idea, not the industry. I learned more about increasing manufacturing efficiency from spending thirty minutes in a poultry processing plant than I learned from any formal process improvement program. (And I've gone through -- and led -- a bunch of programs.) Keep an open mind and sometimes the best ideas can be borrowed from other industries.
  • Focus on the idea, not your ego. Being in charge doesn't make you smarter, savvier, or more creative. Being in charge just makes you the one in charge; leaders aren't granted a monopoly on great ideas. Don't hesitate to let others shine. If one of your employees comes up with a great idea, it reflects well on you: You're a great leader! You're developing great employees! You deserve a raise! (Okay, maybe not the last one.)
  • Hold a "something borrowed" session. Next time you meet to brainstorm, tell everyone they can only suggest ideas they've be successful somewhere else. That automatically removes NIH from the equation since any suggestions by definition were invented elsewhere.
Reinventing the wheel can be expensive and time-consuming. Plus there is no guarantee of success. Often mediocre companies are stuck in an endless loop of NIH.

Great companies adopt outstanding strategies and practices -- no matter where they find them.

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Business Killing Acronym #2: BNG
Legend has it Bold New Graphics originated with a snowmobile manufacturer; since they made few substantive changes, their new model-year marketing campaign focused on "Bold new graphics!"
Many industries have adopted BNG as a way to make fun of competitors, but BNG could be alive and unwell in your organization. Is a new initiative all sizzle and no steak? Does a product "upgrade" consist mostly of new packaging or worthless features? Is your company "transformation" limited to new logos, flashy business cards, and a flashy website?

If so, you've mistaken BNG for measurable and worthwhile improvements.

Here's how to combat BNG:

  • Make product and service improvements customers actually value. When you respond to the real needs and desires of your customers, substantive change is almost always a given.
  • Get feedback from employees. If you plan to change a guideline or procedure, ask employees whether that change will make a difference. Say you want to create a new incentive program; if the reward won't be appreciated by employees, don't roll out the plan.
  • Always gauge and verify bottom-line impact. Process changes that don't create bottom-line savings (or top-line increases) are just window-dressing. Change for the sake of change is pure play BNG.
If you have a few minutes, check out what happens when Hitler finds out his new line of snowmobiles only has bold new graphics. Otherwise, CLICK for the next business-killing acronym >>

Business-Killing Acronym #3: LSD
Lead Singer Disease describes a singer in a rock band whose ego grows unchecked and eventually breaks up the band. (Or starts judging American Idol.)
LSD can also describe any CEO, business owner, or manager whose ego outstrips his or her performance.

Want to know if you have LSD? Diagnosing the condition is easy. In the last month, did you:

  • Make a mistake?
  • Admit you were wrong?
  • Have any bad ideas?
  • Say, "I'm sorry"?
If you answered "no" to all of the above (or, really, any of the above) you have LSD.

Here's the cure:

  • Talk less -- a lot less. No interrupting, no digressing, no hijacking conversations in progress. LSD runs screaming from silence -- your silence.
  • Listen more. Ask for an employee's opinion or input and then actually listen. Keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself. If you must speak, only ask clarifying questions. You'll be surprised by how smart your employees really are once your LSD is into remission.
  • Let others run with a project -- and stay out of their way. A primary symptom of LSD is the compulsion to inject your own thoughts and suggestions into an employee's idea. When you do, you kill the employee's motivation. If their idea needs tweaking, ask leading questions to help them identify the necessary modifications themselves. In short: Let an employee's idea remain the employee's idea.
Feel free to convert LSD as applicable: Lead Supervisor Disease, Lead Salesperson Disease, Lead CEO Disease... the LSD shoe can fit a lot of feet. Just make sure it doesn't fit yours.

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Business-Killing Acronym #4: CODB
Cost Of Doing Business refers to expenses that must be incurred in order to conduct some type of business. For example, maintaining a professional license is a cost of doing business for a physician. If you must spend it, in theory it's a CODB.
The problem is many expenses are incorrectly labeled as Costs of Doing Business. For example, maintaining an office is no longer a CODB when your employees telecommute. Investing in inventory is no longer a CODB for an online retailer when finished products are supplied on consignment by a vendor.

Assigning an expense to the CODB category -- typically out of laziness -- is a sure way to miss opportunities to realize savings or improve processes.

What can you do? Take a look at every expense and see if:

  1. Spending can be eliminated entirely.
  2. Spending can be reduced.
  3. Other alternatives exist.
I don't need to explain each step. You know what to do. Be rigorous and methodical and you'll wring significant sums out of your expense budget -- as long as you never assume any expense must be a CODB. Automatically assigning too many costs to the CODB pile is a recipe for disaster -- personally and professionally.

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Business-Killing Acronym #5: NAP
Say a coworker asks for help. You try hard to be a team player, so even though you're already overwhelmed you say, "Not A Problem."
NAP is understandable. Refusing requests is hard because we all want to be liked. Great bosses try to accommodate the needs of their employees. Great employees maintain can-do attitudes. Business owners often struggle to say no to customers; what if the customer walks?

Say NAP too often, though, and you can kill your career or business. Effectively balancing your workload with the needs of others is critical to long-term business and personal success.

That's why sometimes you must replace NAP with NO.

Here's how to avoid the perils of NAP:

  • Think before you respond. Don't automatically say yes or no to requests. Think about your workload of your company's needs, and evaluate how the request fits into that framework.
  • When NAP is appropriate, always add parameters when necessary. Say a coworker asks you for help. Say, "NAP -- right after I finish this report." Or tell a customer, "NAP -- we can deliver that on Wednesday." When you agree to a request, make sure to include parameters and qualifiers so you can manage expectations.
  • If you decide to say "no," be tactful. Say, "I'm sorry, but I just don't have time," or, "I can't cut the price any lower, but I can shorten the delivery timetable." Saying no instead of NAP rarely goes as badly as you fear, especially if you find tangible ways to soften the blow.
Don't confuse NAP with having a can-do attitude. No one can say yes to everything and still succeed, so don't confuse NAP with being a great employee or being incredibly responsive to customer needs.

Always pick your spots wisely.

Note to Readers: Check out my BNET series The 11,500 Foot View, the chronicle of my attempt to accomplish an impossible goal, remain in the good graces of my family, run a business, stay sane, and blog about it. If you like self-inflicted pain and suffering, you'll love this.
(Photo of stop sign courtesy flickr user Atlanta Scott, CC 2.0; photo of man courtesy flickr user johnny goldstein; photo of soldier courtesy flickr user mia_me, CC 2.0; photo of motorcycle courtesy flickr user WorldWideMotorcycles, CC 2.0; photo of musician courtesy flickr user flo and me, CC 2.0; photo of building courtesy flicr user basykes, CC 2.0; photo of overwhelmed employee by flickr user emme-dk, CC 2.0)