Engagement is a Vector, Not a Scalar

“I hear what you’re saying about the need to be precise and consistent with language when it comes to things like engagement.  That all sounds great in the abstract, but I’ve got a job to do right here in the tangible world, so I need to get some real work done right now.  And quite frankly, there just isn’t time to worry too much about that sort of thing.”

I’ll sometimes get a comment like that in an email or during a Q&A session following a presentation.  Whenever I do, I can’t help but think of a very old (i.e., pre-GPS era) one-panel cartoon that shows a car pulled off onto the shoulder of a road with two men riding in the front seat.  The man riding shotgun has a map spread out across the dashboard in front of him as he turns to the driver and says, “We’re hopelessly lost, but we’re making great time.”

Sure, we all love to move tasks over into the COMPLETED column of our project plans.  And yes, fussing about consistency and clarity and precision of language is not terribly exciting or energizing—or even engaging, for that matter. 

But here’s the thing.  You may well be investing a fair amount of money in such initiatives.  If nothing else, your credibility is on the line.  Under the circumstances, don’t you think that it would be best if, before you started moving too many tasks over into that completed column you were reasonably certain that everybody involved was working from the same set of assumptions and definitions?   And was more or less in agreement as to just what it is that you’re trying to accomplish?

When it comes to things like engagement, success is not a scalar, it’s a vector.  Speed matters, but so too does direction.  Without that unexciting, unenergizing discipline around definitions and word usage, you may be making great time when it comes to checking off items from your to-do list, but you—and the investment you’re making—could also be hopelessly lost.