“Actionable” and Its Next of Kin “Actively”—Use Sparingly
- On September 14, 2016
When food giant Mondalez dropped its doomed bid to buy chocolate giant Hershey, Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Mondalez, wrote that her company determined there was no actionable path forward toward an agreement.
Actionable, which means capable of being acted on, can have a place in business writing—albeit a small one—but that place is not in the Mondalez statement, which is saying the path needed to lead to an agreement. It’s clear what needed to be acted on—and to what end—making actionable redundant.
The company determined there was no path forward toward an agreement would have been fine. (Mondalez could have dropped forward, too.)
So when would you use actionable in this sense? You could say We received actionable information from our research or The plan was actionable (though I would argue plans that can’t be acted on aren’t really plans).
The primary meaning of actionable is giving cause for legal action, as in The book was filled with slanderous statements about his character, which his lawyers deemed actionable.
Actively is another, related word that crops up frequently in business writing, usually with no good reason. How many times have you seen sentences like We are actively looking into this or We are actively working to improve our performance?
It doesn’t add anything. I view it as a corporate note to self, Really! We’re on it!
And I always take it out.