As the world around us becomes more homogenised every day, so too is the endless stream of buzz-speak used by corporate folk becoming more standardised, more repetitive and more tedious. The more often we hear it, the more diluted it becomes and the less impact it has. To paraphrase the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dearest buzz-speak, how do I love thee? Let me counts the ways.
No, really – I’m going to count the ways!
To start with, let’s be brutally honest: it’s only so many times we can hear someone extolling the virtues of becoming engaged in the journey of discovery in the product space to ensure alignment with corporate values, brand and strategy without laughing. Or falling asleep. Sometimes they rattle off whole sentences, entire paragraphs of words that more-or-less, at the end of the day, essentially say nothing. And as the listener, as a member of their intended audience, by the time we’ve identified, linked and followed all the hidden meanings, analogies and clichés that make up the lion’s share of each statement, we have about as much idea of what they’re talking about as Christopher Columbus had of when his boat would topple off the edge of the horizon. Which is probably no great loss in the end since they usually never say very much anyway; and even if you asked a clarifying question, they’d probably only respond using the same language so you’d still be none the wiser.
Some words, as engaged by corporate folk, have actually morphed into different words over time, to the point where the original word becomes all-but forgotten. A prime example of this is the word ‘about’: exactly when did it become around? We’ve taken away some learnings around the governance space and synergies will be achieved if we think outside the box and exploit the low-hanging fruit. Really? I’d sure like to take away some learnings around what the words you just said actually mean! I’m convinced that most corporate folk don’t know how to use the word ‘about’ any more. Why can’t we go straight to the heart of it and talk about the topic at hand, rather than skirting the matter by going around it? Doesn’t make much sense to me. Surely it’s far more efficient to just show the crux of the issue and get on with it? Maybe we should take this offline?
And speaking of efficient, it seems everyone’s trying to grow efficiencies these days. At a high level, from a forecast perspective, we need to grow efficiencies in the resource space aligned to shrinkage projections. …no, I’m not quite getting that one… so you need to increase the number of staff that you don’t have? Is that it? Or you need to decrease the number of staff you will need over time? Or you’re trying to… nup, sorry, you’ve totally lost me. Even the meaning of the most basic statement can be completely lost in translation from buzz-speak back to plain-speak. With all this efficiency-growing and fruit-picking, you’d think we were working in some kind of market garden. I don’t know about you, but for me the organic concept of growing has no connection whatsoever with the business-centric concept of efficiency and the term low-hanging fruit only conjures images of me wandering through the Garden of Eden wearing nowt but a leaf over my nether-regions, lazily reaching for whatever exotic, brightly coloured fruit is within my reach.
Have you noticed how we don’t receive emails anymore either – our inboxes are apparently populated by communications. Marketing will send a communication to the analyst community and business stakeholders around leveraging the learnings and insights taken from key market segment data. So what you really mean is that someone’s gonna send an email to a bunch of people to talk about how to make the most out of what you found out about your customers, right?
And, apparently, communications don’t go to ‘staff’ anymore either – they go to the analyst community, the management community, or the project community. WTF? Irrespective of how much I like the people I work with or that some of them are my actual friends, I most certainly do not go to work to belong to a community – the dictionary definition of which, incidentally, is “A group of people living together in one place, esp. one practicing common ownership: “a community of nuns”; All the people living in a particular area or place: “local communities”. Right… so nuns and local communities. Well aside from anything else, I don’t actually live at work! I know I’ve done some long hours in my time and people have provided tenths of seconds of amusement by asking me “have you actually been home yet?” when arriving at work in the morning, but I never actually lived there. So that’s cleared up then – we don’t live there, so we’re not a community. Enough said.
Or is it? Coz the flip side of this argument is that, despite the fact that corporate folk would have us believe we all ‘live’ in a office-bound community, people within those communities have increasingly had their status as living, breathing human beings removed. Yes, maybe the time has long-since passed since we were last considered little more than numbers on our employer’s payroll – that just wouldn’t do in the age of political correctness. But people still aren’t people any more. They’re rarely even ’employees’ or ‘staff’, terms that were once both in wide use to describe a collective of people who work somewhere. These days, animate being-status of people who work in the corporate world tends to be further reduced by use of inanimate descriptors, like resources and stakeholders.
Every office-dweller loves a good PowerPoint presentation. You can always tell that someone – generally not the presenter – has put a huge amount of time into them when they’re chock-a-block full of tables and animation. But when did we start talking to a slide. As if to cement the sad and sorry end of the word ‘about’, for some reason corporate folk now talk to slides, rather than ‘about’ them. The next slide covers resource requirements in the training space and our Head Trainer will talk to that. Ummm… excuse me, I’m your audience and I’m sitting right here. Shouldn’t the Head Trainer talk to me about the slide? …or is it around the slide?? At any rate, it’s a commonly avoided fact that most corporate folk actually detest doing PowerPoint presentations with a passion. They generally do so on pain of death and they’re typically too under-prepared or under-informed to do anything but talk to the slide – literally – such is their inability to ad-lib its content.
There are so many others that I could mention – too many, in fact – but the discussion wouldn’t be complete without at least tipping my hat to these:
Insights. Suggestions, recommendations or outcomes of analysing or investigating something.
Time-poor. A term typically over-used by anyone who’s bigging themselves up, busy for non-critical reasons, disorganised, irresponsible, bad at their job, scatty, ditzy or otherwise generally inefficient.
High-level. A term that allows corporate folk who don’t actually know a lot about stuff to get away with not knowing a lot about stuff by presenting statements and summaries that are pitched from a high-level viewpoint. Also referred to as the 60,000ft view by those most accomplished in the art of buzz-speak.
Transparent. A word used to describe what a company should do or say or promise to achieve when, in fact, what it really does, says or actually achieves is either the opposite or completely different.
Blue-sky thinking. A non-committal way for corporate folk to speak of how the company might achieve the heretofore unachieved goals and outcomes that were revealed while being transparent.
…we could go on and on and, although it could be endlessly fun, we’d only arrive at the same conclusion: that buzz-speak is just a load of old corporate bollocks. It doesn’t mean much, nor say much and is generally spoken by those who don’t mean much by what they say and who don’t really have much to say anyway – certainly nothing of any real value to the people they’re saying it to. Buzz-speak is all about saying a lot to say very little. It creates confusion, sends mixed messages and generally wastes the time of both those saying it and anyone unfortunate enough to hear it.
It’s just lucky that it’s also enormously entertaining!
Think you got a big bang for your bucks there Matt. Nice one!
My brother once said “What is it about spending a certain amount of time in an office that makes everyone talk like a dickhead?” Touché mon frere.
After 5 years in the Ivory Tower I feel this is a subject I am more than qualified to weigh in on…so I have taken this chance to leverage the latest Corporate/Head Office toolbox jargon from a number of sources in the Corp HR/consultant and analyst spaces.
Feel free to add them to your next round of Buzzword Bingo.
“ideate”: sure, let’s talk… but can we make it sound simultaneously scientific and zany?
“our 2015 ambition”: always pronounced twenty-fifteen…basically our MTP…far enough away that we all hope to be gone/retired/promoted by the time any hard work related to actually achieving said plan comes around
“2020″: twenty-twenty….finally, a plan for the future that we don’t have to change next year or validate with any data. I’ll DEFINITELY be outta here before they discover this mess…NB: 2020 plans are usually the result of intense “blue sky thinking”
“chaos”: hip new term prevalent in the consultant and analyst space… read as ”variable”
“professionalize”: do better work! (when management demands it); I want more training budget! (when employees demand it)
“new normal”: took off after the GFC/recession as a way to say, “seriously, it’s not getting any better. The good times are over. RUN”
“helicopter view”: see 60,000ft view above. The Dutch are metric so they prefer the helicopter
“what we’re really talking about here is..”: a handy way of saying, let me try to fix what someone else has said
“black swan”: nobody has actually read the book, but it sounds so much cooler than just saying “risky.”
“the servant leader”: nobody has read this book either…but they love to tell you that is their leadership style
“at the end of the day…”: a nicer way of saying, “We’ve talked about this far too long.” (even if you’re the only person who has been talking) – totally overused in Australia for years, still fairly new in Europe
“take it offline”: I am not going to have an argument with you in this meeting because I really have no idea how to prove my point. Now let us never speak of this again (and they never did)
“leverage”: plagiarize and steal are such nasty words
“steal with pride”: what you were doing to maximise synergies if you get busted ‘leveraging’
“see what sticks”: there’s no time for critical thinking or filtering. Just do something and blame IT if it doesn’t work
“tie out”: i’ll be giving you some more work later
“optics”: bastardized to mean “anything that could look bad”…I suspect it came from our former Dutch Head of HR…”we can’t take the team out after work. It’s the optics of the situation” at which you are meant to nod ruefully but with understanding. It’s all about the optics.
“right-sizing”: we will be sacking a lot of you, but keeping the ones with ‘no bandwidth’ as they appear busy
“toolbox”: skill-set; a way of talking about how we work that feels more like work-work
“bandwidth”: something that the least productive team members never have enough of; used solely for the purposes of getting out of doing work “I just don’t have enough bandwidth to run those reports”…so much coffee, so little time. Is usually followed by someone offering to “take something off their plate” and nobly declined so they can be a martyr to their own lack of prioritisation skills. Anyone who actually IS too busy would die of shame before using ‘bandwidth’.
ON THE WAY OUT…
“Action Item”: I’m delegating tasks, but now we all feel more like superheroes
“…ping…”: (see: I’ll ping you later) read as “yay! more email because I can’t just tell you now. Also, email is so 5 minutes ago. PING!”
“Synergy”: I’m not sure what’s happening, but let’s assume it’s awesome for everyone. Leverage it if you can.
“Core Competency”: I can do at least one thing right.
That is all…I am out of bandwidth now.
OMG impressive or what!? I can’t believe I forgot ‘taking it offline’. Everyone who’s trying to be anyone these days seems to need to take every other thing offline! Pfft…
… panic over, managed to incorporate it! Nothing better than the ability to amend a post after it’s been published
Oh! Forgot one of my all-time favourite Dutch/Corp. HR lingo…
“our noses pointed in the same direction”: Dutch equivalent to “on the same page” or “singing from the same songbook”…always makes me think of us all having giant noses for heads…