D%mn*d Acronyms

I don’t normally take requests for this blog, but my friend, (known here only as The Retailer), asked me to write a blog about acronyms.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a good idea.

Acronyms are both helpful and annoying.  Annoying for a few reasons, including the fact that the word Acronym is a pain in the *ss (PITA) to spell.

Acronyms can be helpful in an organizational setting, because they create a shared technical language, which can reinforce a culture. They can speed up communication. Acronyms can also be great mnemonics (another PITA word to spell).  I often use them in class to help students remember concepts and frameworks. (“Mother Uses Sugar in Cake”).

So why are acronyms bad?  To quote The Retailer, her fellow managers are “frozen in fear” because they can’t remember the acronyms for providing feedback to staff when they are trying to take action. They can’t remember what the acronym stands for, and they’re afraid to make a mistake. The acronym is actually stopping action.

Acronyms are only useful mnemonics if people remember them. The coach, facilitator or manager needs to work very closely with his staff to ensure that they understand the concepts behind the mnemonic and practice them.  This requires a lot of repetition and application. 

Acronyms can also be a problem, because they create barriers between groups of people. If I’m an outsider, and I don’t understand your short forms, I’m cut out of the conversation. While acronyms create a shared culture, using a form of language, they can also exclude people.  Kind of like when your in-laws are all jabbering away in French, and you speak only English. 

Acronyms are here to stay.  Organizations develop more and more everyday. So how do we effectively use these acronyms?  First, we need to teach, train and model using acronyms effectively. Help staff understand the ideas behind the acronym, and practice those skills until they become automatic. Second, share the purpose of the acronym so that everyone understands it.  Third, make sure that new employees are well oriented to the various management approaches with in the organization, and their associated acronyms.

Today’s bonus question: what does BOHICA stand for?


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