Wednesday, December 17, 2003

11. Just say what you mean

Undoubtedly each industry is forced to adopt its own lingo to effectively communicate. Usually this lingo is compromised of abbreviated words, acronyms and catch phrases, and, for the most part, is harmless and limited to the industry that uses it. Business jargon, however, is the exception because of its potential adoption into mainstream language. This avenue into our language is delivered through marketing, as businesses promote their goods to the public. Worse, however, is the use of these words within business- usually with the same purpose- to either market ideas, appear intelligent or as a measure of deception.

The word "utilized" is not only overused and often used incorrectly, it has become the favorite of those trying to sound intellectual. "Utilized" should be used naturally to describe, "the profitable use of," such as, "Machine utilization in the factory is at an all-time high." It should not be indiscriminately substituted for the word "use." Thus, if the word "use" more accurately describes the action, then it should be preferred. Consider, "Please utilize the mop to clean up the mess." This just sounds ridiculous, and the word "use" would have been much more appropriate. I often think that business managers need vocabulary sensitivity training to encourage them to speak normally and use words appropriately. They need to know that multi-syllable words or adding "ize" to verbs (or nouns...unionize, philosophize) do not make them sound more impressive, nor does it make them better leaders. Leaders are to be judged by the decisions they make, not the words they use (or utilize)!

Perhaps the phrase "empowering employees" is the biggest fallacy in the business world. While the idea behind the phrase is a good one, its application is utter nonsense. Managers are constantly taught that they need to empower their employees, the question is- what does this really entail? The "real-world" empowerment of most employees consists of making suggestions and placing them into the suggestion box. Best-case scenario, the company, if the ideas are implemented, offers a few bucks or a t-shirt to the newly "empowered" employee. However, the definition of empowerment ends where dissent begins. Empowerment does not allow one to ever, ever disagree with management- especially on its policies. With every policy ever imagined, the company has always known best. Worse, to offer ideas against an unfair policy is to brand "bad attitude" on one's forehead. Those who rise up against an issue leveled by management are committing career suicide. If one is lucky enough to keep his or her job, stagnation is the sentence. Those who work their way up to the top do so as a salesman of the "company line," by sacrificing principles, and keeping their opinions to themselves. I am convinced that given the choice between a "practicing" empowered employee and a "mindless robot," the company would pick the "mindless robot" every time. Companies would prefer the employee who shows up every day on time and doesn't say much except to participate gleefully in the team building exercises to the employee who performs his or her job with outspoken passion. Outspokenness equals dissent and dissent is not tolerated- thus true "empowerment" is an ideology that rarely, if ever, really exists.

Another popular phrase is "thinking outside the box." With this, I have never really understood thinking "in the box." Does this mean putting forth the same, usual, boring ideas? Does "outside the box" then mean new, radical ideas? Is brainstorming the culmination of ideas of which some fall in the box and others outside the box? Are not ideas good or bad, practical or impractical, possible or impossible- does it matter whether or not it came from within the box or outside of it? I can tell you what the phrase really is- it is a marketing technique. Someone who is having trouble selling a "radical" idea, that is an idea that has not been regurgitated over and over, boasts- "we need to think outside the box." In other words, the idea, thus far, has not caught on with other executives because of its originality- thus we must convince them otherwise through an alternate approach. How much entrenched management dislikes originality or change is legendary. But if this idea is attached to a cool catch phrase, one that management feels might impress investors, without sacrificing their primitive methods, embedded biases and driving prejudices...well, then, it just might work.

Terms such as "moving forward," that have no reciprocal, are obvious business jargon. Has any company ever used the term "moving backwards?" "Moving forward" is encouraging, synonymous, in a way, with progression and toward a profitable change. Actually, its meaning seeks to erase, or hide, the mistakes of the past. "Moving forward, the company seeks to improve its efficiency by 50%" sounds much better than "From now on, we're going to stop being inefficient."

There is actually a phrase for "moving backwards," it is, "returning to our core values." Again, the idea is marketing. Core values inspire thoughts of principles, strengths and tradition. It, of course, to its employees, could also mean layoffs and downsizing. Returning to our core values means that we, the company, made bad decisions- probably got too greedy or became too arrogant. The company may have purchased a new division, thinking they could do things better than the company they bought it from.

One word muttered in business school over and over was "dynamic." Group dynamics, product dynamics, "the dynamics of the situations dictated"... blah, blah, blah. This word means everything! When in doubt, call it dynamic. When you don't really know or don't want to take the time to explain it- call it dynamic. Consider, "The group dynamics prevented us from coming to a reasonable solution." What does this mean? Were people not getting along, could they not meet at a convenient time, were some speaking in English and others Spanish, or were they just not agreeing (perhaps some were thinking in the box, some out of it!) With this word, business has conquered the art of vagueness.

To end, consider the following sentence that is likely to be found on your company's annual report, "Moving forward, the ABC Company plans to return to its core values, to create new and dynamic ways of marketing its product and to utilize its greatest asset, its employees, by empowering them to think outside the box."

No comments:

Post a Comment