My working title for this post bounced back and forth between 'Translation Please!', 'Lost in Translation,' and 'The Telephone Game.' Let me explain why knowing this matters.
I'm currently studying for the Agile Hybrid Project Pro micro-credential (I told you this wouldn't be about preparing for the PMI-ACP exam), and came across the concept "Go slow to go fast" in the recommended reading. This was in line with what I was planning to write about, so I asked my friend, Google, for a little more information on this quote. Google didn't have much to say about the supposed "warrior-leaders studying the martial arts," but I was directed to a related quote by Augustus - festina lente, meaning "make haste slowly." Knowing this brings us closer to understanding the actual title and working titles of this post.
At two of the companies I've worked for, executive leadership has used motivational concepts and phrases, among other things, to help motivate employees during transitional periods. It seems that somewhere between the message that is delivered and the message that is received, something is being lost.
At Company A, a change in leadership brought a new slogan - "Fast Speed." My first thought was, "What the heck does that mean?" Things devolved from there. On the plus side, it was memorable and received a lot of buzz, but opinions were definitely split on the effectiveness of the slogan.
Compare this with Company B, where there were eight buzz words. Two of them stood out, for different reasons - 'Zoom' and 'Focus.' I'll let you guess which one received the most emphasis.
It's easy to say that the burden of communication is on the person who is speaking, but let's not forget Active Listening. Company A was a little top-heavy and it was difficult to get an answer on what was meant by Fast Speed. Company B was less top-heavy, but there was still a little filtering taking place as the message trickled down through the organization. What started as an emphasis on all eight slogans became perceived as celebrating the ability of individuals to Zoom without consideration for the other seven slogans. Reality is probably somewhere in between, with plenty of Focus taking place, just not being recognized for its contribution (which can be interpreted as a demonstration of which slogans are valued more, but may not be intentional).
I have no doubt that executives and project managers often speak different languages, even if it sounds like both parties are speaking English. Early in my career, I was asked for a project plan. I could have prepared a killer project management plan - I had a template ready to go, with risk, cost, schedule, change, etc. management plans (a book nobody wanted to read). What was wanted was a project schedule (WBS with a Gantt chart). Another time, I was asked to put together a Gantt chart for someone else's project that I didn't know anything about. After a lot of work, I found out that what was wanted was a status report with milestones and a roadmap.
Sometimes, the message gets changed between the time that it is given and the time that you receive it. Other times, you might think you're communicating, but the words being used don't mean the same thing to all parties. The onus of understanding is only partly on the communicator - the receiving party should also take a little time to focus and understand the message before zooming into action. Festina lente.