January 1, 2013
CALGARY, AB, Jan. 1, 2013/ Troy Media/ – It’s a new year. I don’t know why that feels so special: after all, it’s just another day on the calendar.
Yet, it brings with it a renewed sense of optimism. More than anything else, I am looking forward to understanding what people are talking about.
Not all people. Generally, I understand people pretty well. The parties I attended over the holidays were a good test of that. But I started wondering, what happens to these people when they go to work?
Why do otherwise smart people speak like idiots when acting as managers or leaders? Maybe it’s me, but I often haven’t a clue what they’re talking about. I suspect management-speak is used to cover up the fact they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about either.
Perhaps that’s why management-speak is so popular. 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the release of “Bullfighter”, a software program created by Deloitte Consulting that calculated a ‘BS’ index for Microsoft Word documents. It was a great help at ridding our writing of indecipherable mind-numbing crud. In a news release, Deloitte Partner Brian Fugere said; “We’ve had it with repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leveregable mindshare.”
But not for long. Crud sells, clarity doesn’t. Bullfighter died and Deloitte was soon telling us that; “by accelerating learning rather than focusing solely on short-term outcomes, edges can become conduits of transformation, helping the companies of today achieve institutional innovation and tap into the opportunities of tomorrow.” You figure it out. In the meantime, here are a few management-speak words and phrases I wish would disappear in 2013.
‘Going forward‘, as if there was some other direction to go.
‘Out of the box thinking‘, because someone tried thinking once and it didn’t work out so now they’re doing it elsewhere under the impression that a change in location will help.
‘Synergy‘, the management-speak equivalent of the new math wherein 2+2=5.7. If you run out of synergy, relax, you can always synergize to make more.
‘Holistic‘, means ‘everything’ and words that mean everything mean nothing so use often when having nothing to say.
‘Leverage‘, means borrowing and is the cause of the current global economic crisis. Organizations are promising to do a lot more of it. I’m not sure why.
‘Proactive‘ the ability to respond to events before they happen. What leaders do while the rest of us are trying to remember where we parked the car.
‘Dialogue,’ because words with Greek and Latin roots sound so much more important than words with Anglo-Saxon roots. Good for a bonus point on your next performance review but only if you dialogue it rather than talk.
‘Mission critical‘, used to describe important work. For some reason, it’s difficult finding people whose work isn’t mission critical, but when we do, we’ll fire them.
‘Reach out‘, meaning to call or write, but with the added self-aggrandizing implication of doing so in a vulnerable and open way. Usually followed by “. . . to tell you about our special limited time offer”.
Another characteristic of management-speak is the expression of incomplete ideas detailing effects but excluding causes. Results without actions, actions without actors. The ‘ends’ are discussed but the ‘means’ are missing.
This is done because agreement on ends is easy. It’s the means to achieve the ends where disagreements occur. Everyone would like to see fewer gun deaths, but there’s some disagreement between the NRA and the anti-gun lobby on how to get there. So to offend no one, management-speak ignores the means, embraces the ends, and as a result, says nothing beyond feel good motherhood and apple pie.
The give-away of this empty rhetoric is the ubiquitous bullet point. For example, the City of Calgary Triple Bottom Line Policy Framework Update informs us that economic prosperity is provided by:
- “Providing a business environment that attracts new industry and jobs.”
No kidding, but how, whose job is it, and how much will it cost?
So I guess I am saying I would like some clarity in 2013, comprised of concrete words, complete sentences, and coherent thoughts. Is that too much to ask? Probably, but I’m still looking forward to it.
Troy Media columnist Robert Gerst is a Partner in Charge of Operational Excellence and Research & Statistical Methods at Converge Consulting Group Inc. He is author of The Performance Improvement Toolkit: The Guide to Knowledge-Based Improvement and numerous articles in peer-reviewed publications.
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