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The Perils of Business-Speak: Stop Cascading Those Metrics, Pronto! Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Business jargon. Artificial language that often takes the place of clarity. If it hasn't hit your company yet, thank your lucky stars. If it does, your meetings might sound something like this...

"O.K. people, time to get granular. Jenkins, where do we stand in marketing?"

"Glad to report that we've leveraged key drivers for optimal synergies."

"Excellent, Jenkins,' says the Team Leader. 'Send me the analytics pronto. O.K., what's happening in production?"

"We're gaining traction on out-of-the-box solutions."

"Superb. Lets cascade that upstairs." The Team Leader looks to her left: "Distribution?"

"We've insourced a customer-centric modality with best of breed metrics."

"Great. Better socialize your data as a strawman."

Yes, it's the new vocabulary of business. Sound familiar? Need an interpreter?

Makes me yearn for the good old days of calling a spade a spade.

Too many meetings and conferences I attend are scenes from linguistic hell. Are we getting more concerned with appearing professional than actually saying something of value?

Brian Pascal, Publisher of Workplace Today, has some intriguing thoughts on this. His magazine is one of Canada's leading publications on human resources.

Truth is I'd figured him for a biz-speak addict. In fact, he does support specialized language. But here's his rationale: "Who wants to be involved with a 'naturally speaking' company whose president sits down with major clients and says 'If you give us all your business, we'll ship ASAP and give you really good stuff for really cheap.''

In other words, business-speak may actually be useful. It sure can make you sound impressive -- but only if you know how to use it right. Might even give employees a sense they belong to a unique team (or a secret order, though I prefer the ones with funky handshakes). And maybe, just maybe, it gives a common vocabulary that serves as a sort of communications shorthand. So long as everyone uses it the same way, that is.

It's just that, well...it all seems so damned contrived.

Not that this troubles Pascal. His view? "Give me a break. Let's talk about 'artificial'. Most workers already have to dress in clothes they wouldn't normally wear at home. They already have to cooperate with people they don't like and they already have to pretend to be excited about work that could be performed by a chimpanzee."

Hmm, not exactly mincing words. Wish more corporate-types spoke this way.

The problem is it's not so easy to "eschew obfuscation" (oops, that one got away from me). Especially when it drips down all gooey and seductive from senior management. After all, why speak plainly and risk being pegged when you can complicate and sound like a player?

For those of you who still want to join the bandwagon, your route's wide open. The Internet can get you up to speed with very little effort. There's a great buzzword dictionary at BuzzWhack.com, the site that's all about demystifying lingo.

Need something that requires less effort? Try the free 'Buzzword Generator' available at www.robietherobot.com/buzzword.htm. Click once and out pops the phrase 'embrace bricks-and-clicks infomediaries.' Click again and it's 'synergize viral users.' With expressions like these you'll be a hit in the boardroom before management can say 'Let's downsize again!'

No need to stop with just a few cool words, though. You can produce an entire mission statement for you and your company just like Dilbert does. I promise you'll swear they're real! www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/career/bin/ms2.cgi churns out such eloquence as 'Our role is to dramatically promote performance based catalysts to professionally supply value-added opportunities for 100% customer retention.'

It doesn't get much easier than that.

Kidding aside, what I really find ironic about jargon is this: so much of what goes wrong in the workplace can be traced to poor communication. Your colleague says one thing, you hear another. The boss states his expectations and you run off and do the exact opposite.

A return to conventional language could help to reduce confusion. Maybe as corporate transparency makes inroads, this will follow on its coattails. But for the time being, Pascal pretty much has it right: "Getting a simple message across in the workplace is like trying to push overcooked asparagus through a brick wall.'

Too bad. Because speaking plainly is often a sign of courage. It lets others know what's really going on, and shows that you're willing to be accountable.

Then again, maybe Pascal has a point. For those who do choose to learn the new lexicon, 'They will probably find themselves isolated from the 'natural' workgroups, but their value to the organization will never be in question when the next purge comes.'

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