How Acroynms Can Derail Decision Making


Acronyms…they start at such an early age and are a part of our culture – personal and professional.  Everyone faces acronyms.  Absolutely everyone.  You can count on it.  And they can drive members of your Compression Planning® (CP) sessions nuts.

Most CP sessions have people from many disciplines including both inside and outside the company/organization.  New people and vets.  And acronyms create a big challenge to get everyone on the same page at the same time.

To prove my point I Googled the following acronyms:

1.  FRPM (which I made up).  It returned 65,600 results.  For some, it means “Fire Retardancy and Protection of Materials.”  For others, it’s the Florida RacePlace Magazine.”

2.  JVZK (another one, invented right on the spot).   2,380 results ranging from some space-age looking dump truck/wagon in the Netherlands to well…stuff just comes up.

3.  RAS (this one, in my mind, actually means something – Reticular Activating System – you know, when you go to buy a new car and all of a sudden, THEY’RE everywhere?  That’s your RAS at work).  Google results = 16,900,000.  I guess it also means The Royal Agricultural Society of New Zealand.

My pointAcronyms have a huge chance of being misunderstood.   And they often are.  You can count on it that they will be misunderstood in CP sessions you design and lead.

Some Compression Planning Design hints:

1.  When creating your topic cards make sure you spell out the words of the acronym (example: Introducing Compression Planning (CP) to your business).

2.  Always spell out the acronyms the first time you use them – even when you are “100% sure” everyone knows what they mean.   I think it is always an assumption to believe everyone understands the frequently used acronyms, much less the uncommon ones.

3.  One group I facilitated went so crazy over acronyms I appointed an “Acronym Cop” (AC).  Every time someone dropped an LOL or a CYAL8R, our AC would call time out to make sure everyone understood the meaning behind the letters.

The acronym was then spelled out on a card and posted on a separate storyboard.  Keeping the acronym and its definition posted for all to refer to was helpful to the entire group.

There were close to 40 cards on the board before the session ended and they became a part of the final report.


Basic Principles

Assume someone sitting around your table does not know every acronym but may feel either too stupid to admit it or are too shy to ask what ‘it’ means.  It takes a lot of chutzpah for a CP participant to stop a group to find out what an acronym means.

My oldest brother Jim told me about a meeting when he was a senior engineering manager at IBM.

One person in the group kept quoting the POO.

“The POO said this.”

“The POO said that.”

Finally in exasperation Jim asked who the POO was.  He said the only POOH  he ever heard of was Winnie the Pooh.

The man quoting the POO said it was a manual called the Principles of Operations which, in reality, had been discarded a year earlier.

They wasted hours listening to this man quote POO as if it was the IBM oracle.  I’m sure there’’ a literal and figurative moral to Jim’s story!


The General Acronym Rule (GAR):

Spell them out the first time you use them in your design – in your Background, on your Topic cards, Purposes and in Headers.  It is also vital to spell them out in both the Action and Communications Plans.

Don’t let your printers get lazy.  Direct them to spell out the detail on the idea cards as well.

Once you spell them out the first time use the acronym after that.  Double check every now and then to make sure people remember what they mean.

When it comes to names and dates in your Action & Communication Plans, I say take the extra 4-5 seconds and spell out the entire name and date including day, month and year.  It makes tracking easier, especially if you have a larger group.

These hints work for every type of session – technical, financial, engineering, marketing, educational, manufacturing as well as in international sessions.

Taking the time to spell out acronyms in the beginning might slow things down…a bit.  However, once everyone has a grasp of an acronym and what it truly means, then the real benefits of “short-cut language” can effectively happen.



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