“We need to optimize our collateral to facilitate the corporate journey. That way we’ll have enough bandwidth to leverage our supplier pipelines, creating enough synergies that going forward, we can ideate some blue-sky thinking and incentivize our brand evangelists with a holistic approach and a bespoke solution… all by C.O.P. (That’s close of PLAY… because remember, we’re all having such fun, aren’t we?!)”
This slippery, cynical and dishonest language—this jargon—has become standard in the corporate world. It will often manifest as acronyms that only those “in the know” will understand. But perhaps more common is the invention of words and the corruption of existing phrases, nouns and verbs, where the human language is expunged and all we are left with is a cold remnant of what was once communication.
The more we remove the clear and honest communication from our work, the more toxic our culture become, the greater our staff turnover is and the harder we have to work to make each sale.
So why do we use corporate jargon?
Jargon is often employed to depersonalize the unpleasant. No one is fired these days; instead, you are managed out, downsized, or if you’re very lucky, you and your co-workers might be “rationalized.”
But jargon is also used to conceal information, to assert power and position, and even to appear brighter and better informed than we might actually be.
Although some jargon begins its life as a shortcut to convey something special, all jargon ultimately leads to secrecy and fear. Much of it should be retired—or performance-managed—perhaps even repurposed and up-skilled.
Here’s seven you need to lose “moving forward”:
1. Human Capital
Is borrowed from the livestock industry, where capital literally means “head of cattle.” Hardly the kind of language to be employed while touting a culture of inclusiveness and employee loyalty.
The close cousin of human capital, it defines the human beings who share daylight hours and working lives as merely raw ingredients in some kind of human foundry. We are no longer individuals contributing to a great enterprise; we are immediately replaceable, expendable and considered little more than the oil needed to grease the great mechanical wheels.
An idea that is scalable is actually a good thing. But not every idea needs this qualifier—which is part of the problem. What makes this piece of jargon so troubling is that it often translates as, “I don’t really understand what you said, but I feel the need to create the illusion that I’m quite important and rational.”
The irony of this corporate buzzword is that the people who use it most often are usually employees themselves—and as such have no real ownership in the organizations they serve. Where ownership becomes powerful, however, is when the organization in question creates a genuine atmosphere of shared contribution and rewards. Sadly these organizations are few and far between.
5. Customer/Client Centricity
Like ownership, this is actually a good idea. Understanding what is important to your customers and aligning your service with their values is a terrific strategy. Although, if you have to talk about it using jargon, it’s probably absent in practice.
6. Moving Forward
Seriously… just say “Next!”
7. Exit Strategy
It’s tempting to look to the military for models of leadership and behavior, but rarely does life in the corporate world reflect the same perils and danger that befalls a foot soldier.
Business isn’t life and death, it is ultimately the creation and sharing of value. This is a very human exercise and should be spoken about in meaningful, human terms.
A behavioral researcher and strategist, author, educator and corporate coach, Kieran Flanagan is one of the only female creative directors in the world of “Mad Men” and has won awards around the world for creativity and effectiveness. Kieran is a TEDx Sydney partner and speaks to audiences including the UN in Singapore and Coca-Cola. She is a passionate advocate for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership.