Call for Clarity – Why is there no Standardization of Terms in Managerial Sciences?


Before I started Effective ManagersTM, I went through a period of reading and reflection, which ultimately led to my research project with the University of Ottawa . What I was trying to figure out was why managers so often find themselves in no-win situations. They are delegated more work but nothing is ever taken away. If there is a budget issue, and it becomes necessary to find more money, it usually comes at the expense of the resources that are currently available to them. Managers are almost always over-delegated, under-resourced and understaffed.

As I was conducting research in the management sciences to understand how the effectiveness of managers was impacted by these roadblocks, I was struck by the lack of common definitions. How could I tackle the problem of effectiveness when no clear, common understanding of the word “effectiveness” existed? Before I could continue my research, I needed to address the lack of standardized terms in the management sciences.

Lack of Standardization

The lack of standard management terms is problematic. Terms that should be used uniformly across organizations—such as accountability and responsibility —are used interchangeably. The terms leadership and management provide another example of this. Even work, which is such a fundamental concept, is a word that can be used in many different ways. Work can refer to a particular job description, the tasks one needs to carry out, or be used as a verb. Others have tried to implement standardized terms but without success. Even within published articles, terms tend to be defined within each individual paper. This lack of standardization is an issue because it makes it difficult to talk about, let alone solve, management problems.

Say I was a chef and I wanted to replicate another chef’s recipe. If I didn’t have any standards around what a teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, or ounce was, how would I ever be able to replicate the recipe? The standardization of terms and measures is critically important in cooking, engineering, medicine, and other professions; yet in management, it’s just not there.

Our Mission

This is why one of our primary missions at Effective ManagersTM is to come up with standardized definitions of management concepts. As a profession, I believe that management consultants in general should embrace a leadership role in developing standards to help us better discuss issues, so that managers can have a better chance of being more effective in their organizations. Without standardized terms we will never be able to address the problems that so many managers today face.