Company X got a big order from one of its valued partners, but the catch was that the order had to be executed in just a week. The marketing director called an urgent meeting to figure out how the company could deliver this. After other heads of departments had their say, attention shifted to the production head. The gentleman was cryptic in his response: “We just can’t boil the ocean.”
Very few knew what this meant and the marketing director requested him to be direct and clear. The answer was even more confusing: “Don’t try to throw me under the bus, gentlemen.” This murderous image, however, rang a bell and a few of his colleagues understood what the preposterous phrases meant. In simple terms, the production head was telling others that his team could not be expected to produce, inspect, and ship so many units in one week and his colleagues should not try to blame him later after asking him to do an almost impossible task.
The marketing director, however, didn’t want to be left behind in this race to use meaningless words that are popularly known as management-speak. “Let’s peel back the layers of the onion,” he said. This was an easy one as everybody understood what he meant. It was nothing but a pompous way of saying ‘let’s take a closer look at the issue raised’. The problem was finally resolved by sub-contracting part of the work after a lot of “double-clicks” and “drill downs”.
The production and the marketing heads were not saying anything out of the ordinary. Acronyms and business jargon are gathering speed and taking over everyday office chat.
However, what few realise is that too much of “thought showers” and “blue sky thinking” can well be alienating and irritating people the moment they open their mouth.
For example, everyone is talking about ‘upskilling’ these days. Is it because as a word, training has become so prosaic that a nifty new verbal mashup had to be created by the six-figure earning MBA-types who want to distinguish themselves from the boots on the ground?
A young management trainee who sat through some of the meetings was wondering why everybody was trying to address the elephant in the room or stressing the need to dive deeper into issues. As far as she knew, the company didn’t employ an elephant and didn’t boast of an office perk of a diving pool. “So why can’t they use simpler words?” was her query. It seemed to her that everybody in the room was trying to unsettle the other with a turn of phrase that’s been inspired by the lexicon of corporate jargon. So every single office conversation had a lot of “helicopter view” and “strategic staircase” — all produced by the new management fashion industry.
The winner of the worst business jargon of all time can be: “Opening the kimono.” Republican representative Jason Chaffetz used that to great effect when calling for Donald Trump
to reveal his tax returns in the run-up to the US presidential election last year, by telling him: “Open your kimono and show us everything”. Along with “open the kimono” the business world has brought us “one throat to choke” meaning the person ultimately responsible for a failed project and “punch the puppy” — doing something that’s extremely reprehensible but good for business.
One of the best examples of this jargon-heavy management bluster is a windy 1,100-word memo by a Microsoft executive. The memo proceeds to torture its readers with phrases like “appropriate financial envelope” and “ramp-downs” before finally mentioning job cuts about two-thirds of the way through. The memo ends, saying, “the clarity, focus and alignment across the company, and the opportunity to deliver the results of that work into the hands of people, will allow us to increase our success in the future”.
Finally, this is what a CEO said at a recent meeting to explain the rationale of a major restructuring programme. The CEO said he wanted to “disambiguate” (clarify) that the company had to “jump the shark” (some businesses are past their prime and grasping at straws to stay relevant) and he was sure that his colleagues were like “ducks in a row” (ready and organised) to take on the task.
It is not known whether the people who attended the meeting were “glazing” — corporate-speak for sleeping with their eyes open.