Glossaries don’t communicate,
people do

Terry Smith, Intraversed


If you think the fact that you have a business glossary means your people are communicating clearly and effectively across your business functional areas, think again.

That kind of great communication doesn’t happen because someone put a term with a definition into a glossary. Even when the glossary is really well written (which we almost never see), if people aren’t using it in their day-to-day communication and business functions, its existence and its contents are irrelevant.

Glossaries don’t communicate, people do



Great communication happens when a business has a culture that values it.

In other words –the business invests in ensuring their people value it.

A Business Culture that Values Great Communication

A business culture that values great communication has three key features.

1. The business leaders understand the role communication plays in business assurance and success.

Leaders need to understand the direct impact of poor communication on the factors that contribute to business assurance. When communication is poor (meaning language is not uniformly used across the organisation), it can result in significant:

  • financial burden (project failure, high reporting costs, unnecessary IT spend)

  • regulatory & legal risk (reports that are not accurate or are unobtainable)

  • reputational risk (reporting incorrect information to external parties or security breaches from internal misuse – often inadvertent – of information)

Further, when IT and business functional areas have the same common language, the scoping of projects is quicker (less costly) and more reliable (less risk) meaning future projects are more likely to succeed and less likely to spend more than is necessary.

2. The business has a core tribe of language experts.

Businesses with a culture that values great communication have established a core community of language curators (we call them a ‘tribe’) who drive the establishment and maintenance of the foundations of great communication.

These foundations include a common language of business terms, each with a single, formalised definition, and establishing & managing the official glossary tool for the business.

This tribe has representation from across all functional areas and has the support required to do this job adequately. This means investment in a quality glossary tool, training and education, and their authority is endorsed by the leadership to the wider organisation.

We’ve written extensively in the past on the elements of a great glossary tool and what constitutes a great business term definition (read more here, here, here and here).

3. There is ongoing, adequate investment in promotion, maintenance and governance, of these communication foundations in the BAU budget.

High quality communication is not a set and forget process. Your communication foundations (the tribe, the glossary tool itself and the glossary content) need to be actively governed and the use of this standard common language throughout the organisation needs to be promoted, compliance incentivised, and usage measured.

This takes ongoing financial commitment and visible endorsement from leadership.

These governance measures should be regularly reported to senior leadership - if leaders are adequately investing in this activity, they should want to see reports on its impact.

So, you don’t quite have this culture in your business yet?

You’re not alone. It’s rare.

The best way to start the process of creating this kind of culture is to find the core terms causing issues in reporting metrics. Gather the staff directly affected by these business term issues and clarify definitions for them.

This is the fastest way to achieving some positive impact, which can help to convince senior leaders of the value of greater, more intentional investment in communication improvement.

Terry Smith, Intraversed

Terry Smith

Terry is a co-founder & Chief Education Officer at Intraversed. She spends her days helping information governance teams implement the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning methodology that builds stable information foundations for reliable reporting.

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