29 April 2013

Management speak #1

This is the first of a series of blogs on management speak and buzzwords. Allow me, with a nod to all, to call it SM&BW.

SM&BW are easy and frequent targets of journalists, though I often wonder if some of these articles are not written in advance and held in store for slow news days.

On Thursday 25 April 2013, The Guardian ran 10 of the worst examples of management-speak. (In passing: Why not "Ten of the worst examples of management speak"?) My first reaction is to say: "Easy pickings!" Certainly the words are often mis-used or over-used, but that's not necessarily the case.

To further set the scene on SM&BW -- before I go on to talk about the challenges of translating it and other aspects -- here are some gems from a page on The Conference Board Review's website presenting a list of questions and the replies of authors who have railed at length against SM&BW:
  • Once an obscure scientific term, paradigm is so vague when used in common parlance that it was easily vandalized by snake-oil consultants to peddle everything from global trade liberalization to casual Fridays.
  • Reengineering, as promoted by Mike Hammer and James Champy twenty years ago, was a very detailed and process-driven approach to changing the way a company operates. However, at many companies using the term, it simply equated to firing people.
  • The most egregious jargon I’ve encountered is surplus to requirements in reference to laid-off employees. Downsizing and census reduction are heartless enough. But STR to describe humans as spare parts is pretty damn cruel.
  • Kaizen, the Japanese term for continuous improvement, is of such immense value that it should be adopted in all walks of life. It’s the antonym of complacency, which is to business what heart disease is to health — widespread yet preventable. 
  • Monetize has had a bad rap, I think: It’s a handy, accurate term for turning an asset like a factory or piece of intellectual property into money. My favorite description of the panic buying of the dotcom era remains Warren Buffett’s observation, at the time, that, “The ability to monetize shareholder ignorance has probably never been exceeded.”
And, before I leave you, another wonderful quote from that master of plain business talk, Warren Buffet:
"When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact. I just wish I hadn't been so energetic in creating examples. My behaviour has matched that admitted by Mae West: 'I was Snow White - but I drifted'."

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