Lately I have been receiving a lot of glossy color mailings from my congressman. I live in an area with a high senior-citizen population, so assuaging fears about the impact of health-care reform is a high priority for this congressman. As I read the content related to Medicare, I am once again drawn to the language that talks about these bills protecting and defending Medicare. But as I understand both Senate and House versions of health reform, enormous amounts of money ($500 billion over ten years) will be cut from Medicare. Without any changes at all, Medicare is expected to run out of money in 2017, only seven years from now. So how can a half-trillion be cut while "protecting and defending Medicare"? The short answer is that it can't. But that is where it gets interesting.
There is a new game in town that is growing more rapidly than professional sports and legalized gambling combined. It is the Word Game, and it is being played expertly by politicians, advertisers, and PR experts. And it is the one game no one can afford to lose. Here is how it works: Practitioners use words that we are familiar with and whose meaning is "generally accepted" by large numbers of people. When we hear words like "protecting and defending Medicare" we believe that the author/speaker is using the same definition that we are, and we, especially senior citizens, are comforted that someone is looking out for us. But here is the problem: The author/speaker may have his or her own, separate, definition for that phrase, allowing him or her to say it with full confidence in its veracity. My congressman must believe that Medicare spends too much money, covers too many people, and pays for too many prescriptions and procedures, because he voted to cut Medicare funding. Unfortunately, most of the older readers of his newsletter will believe that he is "protecting and defending Medicare" as it operates today, not as he thinks it should operate. It is becoming clear that we can no longer assume that our politicians speak our language. We must start demanding that our politicians clearly define what they believe so we can decide for ourselves whether their words are comforting or cause for concern. The fox's definition of henhouse security is much different than that of the chickens.
How does this apply to the supply chain? It has never been more important to clearly define terms in contracts and service agreements. If you are not sure of what something means, define it or have your business partner define it. If you don't know for sure what you are getting, don't sign on the dotted line. Don't assume that when someone uses a familiar word that they assign it the same meaning as you would. Now might be a good time to review your contract and SLA language to look for and remove any ambiguity.
Have a great, safe, and aware 2010!
-Lynn James Everard