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Corporate lingo

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Want a job in the corporate world? Then you better take a crash course in business speak. To survive in the modern workplace, you must be able to converse with others using annoying gobbledygook. Once the exclusive domain of consultants and academics, the use of meaningless words and phrases has now infiltrated the rank and file.

Jargon slingers lurk everywhere and complicate the simplest messages. For example, instead of wanting to drive fundamental change, disciples of office gibberish spout their desire to facilitate a paradigm shift. Co-workers are left to decipher what is really being said. But over time, they too start repeating the catchphrases and this causes the “vernacular virus” to spread.

Baffling language abounds in the corridors of commerce. Indeed, no business is totally immune from inane phrases. So, let’s start your lesson in office babble with a helicopter view of the landscape so that you can see the big picture of corporate buzzwords. We can then open the kimono and take a deep dive into some of the more scream-inducing terms that you may encounter.

Let me say at the outset that corporate verbosity is often used to conceal meaning and intent. Convoluted language - such as telling a worker her skills are no longer in alignment with corporate strategy - is a long-winded way of saying something simple - “you’re fired”. Personally, I’d rather be told the truth than be shovelled some euphemism about rightsizing or downsizing.

You should be aware that the corporate penchant for buzzwords comes to the fore during meetings. Such settings bring out the worst in self-absorbed jargon-mongers. They pepper meetings with terms like peel the onion, unpack the problem, close the loop and take it offline. They also complain about having insufficient bandwidth to move the needle.

If you find yourself in such a meeting, my suggestion is that you quietly play business babble bingo. This can turn any sleep-inducing meeting into an exciting adventure. Discretely take a list of buzzwords/phrases to the meeting and circle each one as it is used. See how many words/phrases you can circle by the end of the meeting.

Strategy meetings provide a particularly fertile environment in which to gauge the depth of waffle in an organisation. When executives are engaged in blue sky thinking, they think outside the box and synergize with one another and this generates some of the best drivel you’ll ever hear. Terms like bleeding edge, best practice, burning platform and core competencies are thrown around like confetti.

When the discussion turns to the digital economy, you’ll encounter some impressive high-tech jargon. In our online world, quick meetings have become scrums, everyday risks have become cyber risks and new entrants have become digital disrupters. In response, organisations must be agile and display transformational leadership.

Let me reach out and give you a heads-up that anything to do with technology is buzzword-heavy and can be grating on the ear. Terms like Fintech, the Internet of Things, machine learning, blockchain, quantum computing, cryptocurrencies and the singularity all need to be translated into human speak.

Please also be aware that political correctness has caught up with corporate buzzwords. The term “brainstorming” is now off the agenda. Idea-generating sessions must now be called thought showers. This change was driven by the concern that epilepsy sufferers and other people with brain disorders might find the term brainstorming offensive.

Moving forward, I ask that you be conscious of your language when starting a dialogue with colleagues and give 110% in your efforts to break down silos in the workplace. Feel free to touch base with mentors and circle back to this blog if in doubt about the right buzzword to use. If you follow these simple rules, I’m confident that your language can be taken to the next level.

Please allow me to end this discussion on a serious note. I believe that businesses should avoid management fads. Yet many organisations fall into the trap of eagerly embracing the latest management thinking and the trendy language that comes with it. But management fads move quickly from being obligatory to obsolete.

The propensity for organisations to jump onto the latest “miracle” breakthrough technique gave rise to the 1990s book: Fad Surfing in the Boardroom. I have not read the book but understand that its primary purpose is to help companies “… catch the right wave - instead of getting drowned by the ebb and flow of contradictory managerial fads”.

Organisations that are seduced by the various management fads that sweep the business world invariably discover that no management technique is a silver bullet. In my experience, the essence of good management - respect staff, delight customers, control costs, improve processes - is unglamorous common sense.

The corporate world has fallen prey to management fads and management speak. I accept that everyone drops some cringe-worthy terminology occasionally, but we are not forced to speak in riddles. We can choose to ditch impersonal and hollow language. To say that you can’t is just a load of codswallop.

Paul J. Thomas, CEO


avatar Gregory Diment
OMG Paul Thomas you are the greatest!

Another cracker of a blog delivered today thank you!!

"the essence of good management - respect staff, delight customers, control costs, improve processes"

Thank you for the plain English summation of good management.

End of meeting lets all get on with the above!
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CEO Paul Thomas