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Topic Title: 'Management Speak' - has business language gone mad?
Topic Summary: or, How Managers mutilate the English language... your best examples please
Created On: 28 May 2008 08:45 AM
Status: Read Only
Related E&T article: The language of business
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 28 May 2008 08:45 AM
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nicksmithphoto

Posts: 17
Joined: 28 May 2008

As editor of the Management section of the IET's fortnightly magazine E&T, I receive a lot - and I mean a lot - of press releases, corporate statements, government PR and so on. As someone with a degree in English from the University of Oxford I've always been bothered by the lack of basic literacy displayed in most of these communications. But normally I silently correct them, understanding that the world of science, engineering and technology moves so quickly that we can't all be as linguistically adept as George Orwell (or even sticklers for the Economist house style). Until now I've not commented on this downward trend because, although important, it's not life-threatening. Engineers are bright people and their skill is in engineering, not necessarily communicating with 100 per cent accuracy.

But for managers it is a different matter, and I am becoming increasingly baffled by the emergence of 'Management Speak'. I know that we all talk in jargon from time to time (you don't want to hear me going on about transferred epithets, metathesised consonants and neologisms), but in the management sector it is getting ridiculous. The way in which managers today torture the English language (the lingua franca of international business) is dangerous, ill-conceived and linguistically unacceptable. When my editor Dickon Ross asked me to come up with some themes for a Big Brother edition of E&T magazine, I immediately decided to address the way 'Management Speak' is the new 'Newspeak'.

Rather than write the piece myself I commissioned the novelist Mick Herron to write an article called 'The language of business - the business of language'. I asked Herron to write this because a) he is a well-known professional writer outside of the engineering sector, b) he is well-known as a superb technician in English, and c) he is well-known for telling it as it is - you won't find too many euphemisms in his writing.

The result in my opinion is an incisive feature article that I think all managers should read. Why do we use the word 'revolutionary' for things that don't revolve? Why do we always 'shift' paradigms? Why to we change verbs into nouns willy-nilly (and even more alarmingly nouns into verbs), so that we 'eventuate' outcomes. As the American journalist said: "there ain't a noun I can't verbise..." Quite.

But where it gets really silly - and this is where I want you to help me - is when managers, communications people, HR consultants and so on, simply put words together for no reason, just to make what they think is the sound of business talk. Only recently I came across someone trying to tell me that a company was experiencing a 'negative fiscal productivity scenario', which I took to mean 'making a loss'.

This would all be funny if it weren't so serious. After all, we operate on the world's stage and we need clarity and simplicity to communicate complex business ideas to people for whom English is perhaps their third language. Despite the seriousness of the issue, it is also surreal and absurd and sometimes downright funny. I'd like to find out what are the weirdest, worst, most annoying, overused and oblique expressions in Management Speak today.

Please feel free to contribute your experiences of the wacky world of business vocabulary.

I'll start. I hate the words 'functionality'... and 'defenestration'... and 'leverage'...

Wishing you an upscale eventuation of your diarised leverage scenarios...

Nick Smith
Management Editor, E&T magazine
 28 May 2008 08:57 AM
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vquinn

Posts: 21
Joined: 26 November 2001

Nick, thanks for this - it's something we do actually notice. Some of the phrases created can actually be hilarious. I'm afraid that sometimes, purely for entertainment value some of us mere engineers will create a buzzword and drop it into a report / presentation / meeting and see how long it takes to become jargon and how many managers pick it up. It can be very funny.
As an engineer with a good grasp of the langauge and (though I say so myself) quite good spelling skills - I do despair sometimes of the spelling errors made in formal reports made both within and between different organisations - most of which would be caught even with a spell-checker.
Current buzz-words in my organisation are "deep-dive" and "pulse". for example
"We will pulse a meeting to deep-dive the issues and pulse our results"

-------------------------
Eur Ing Vikki Quinn MIET
 28 May 2008 11:56 AM
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johntopham

Posts: 131
Joined: 13 February 2006

We used to go to meetings with pre-prepared cards that had our best individual guesses as to the phrases/buzzword we hoped would appear, and play buzzword bingo (the rewards were beers in the post meeting lunches). Sometimes the discussions would be guided outrageously in an attempt to gain the advantage...

-------------------------
John Topham GCGI, DipComp(Open), EngTech, MIET

The EXPERT knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing .....
 28 May 2008 01:56 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
Joined: 28 May 2002

Slightly off subject, but worth it because a) it was in huge letters and b) it was next to the IET logo (actually "IET endorsed training provider"): I recently got a flyer from ERA which had as its title

"Are your current training provider maximising your capabilities?"

Yes, he are.


Back to the subject, I keep a lovely Dilbert cartoon by my side:
Sales rep: "We provide win-win scenarios and customer-focused solutions"
Dilbert: "Uh...okay...but what is the actual product or service you sell?"
Sales rep: "We don't sell, we partner."
The sad thing is, I have had that conversation many a time recently.


But, but, but. For many years I too hated the word "leverage", however recently I have found myself using it in a management sense - although as "will provide leverage" rather than "will leverage". There was a letter to "The Engineer" recently bemoaning management speak, however unfortunately the writer clearly didn't understand some of the terms he was ridiculing ("logistics" is not "stores", "HR" is not "Personnel"). It is easy to ridicule something just because you don't understand it, as engineers we are on the receiving end of this as much as managers are!

But using words without bothering to think about what they mean is definitely fair game. Mission and Vision statements are often a good place to start here...

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 29 May 2008 08:15 AM
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jcolquhoun

Posts: 487
Joined: 21 September 2001

Job advert page 88 for UCL one of the last lines states 'The salary will be negotiable according to experience in the professorial range...'

Ok I had to look up the dictionary to actually believe that this was a 'proper' word (its an adjective) but is it actually needed to add weight to the job description.

The best one I have heard in management speak was 'levelling' - removing management layers which turned into a lets get rid of everyone.

Regards

-------------------------
Eur Ing John Colquhoun CEng MIET
Si Je Puis
Clarior Hinc Honos
Operations Manager - Telecommunications (Scotland) <img src="/forums/forum/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif" border="0">
 29 May 2008 11:03 AM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
Joined: 28 May 2002

From the Value statement right here on this website:

"Digital and global in thought and action"

How can Digital be a value? Or, how can an organisation be Digital?

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 30 May 2008 02:58 PM
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gillianlambert

Posts: 5
Joined: 29 November 2002

Well all teachers may have been interested in the quality of the English once, Alan G! Sadly these days I'm not so sure, my son't football team is run by a teacher (head of PE and Yr 13 at the local Comprehensive) who repeatedly includes mis-spellings, poor grammar and just plain the wrong words in his communications. Please don't ask me to believe that he doesn't know the difference between a "stool" and a "stall".

This is a topic of particular interest/annoyance to me as an engineer turned manager who counts themselves as pretty literate and gets involved in a reasonable amount of proposal writing as a result. Sadly, it's often hard to tell whether what appears impenetrable jargon is actually meant as such or just poorly written.

I work with a large European company which has recently brought in a pan-European harmonised management system. Now, I don't have a problem with the fact that some of the document templates provided aren't in the best English, given that they are written by non-native speakers they are excellent, what really hurts is that my English colleagues don't recognise the errors and correct them.

I think my favourite recently was "to administrate".

Edited: 30 May 2008 at 03:04 PM by gillianlambert
 31 May 2008 01:19 PM
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iansettle

Posts: 777
Joined: 20 September 2005

Don't know about 'Management Speak' but with the use of text shorthand when texting messages, kids now seem to think that it is ok to use this style when doing normal writing.

Hate to see what the english language will be like in 100 years.
 01 June 2008 04:28 PM
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kasese

Posts: 183
Joined: 31 March 2006

I think it might be drink related - - anyway in my case it is bad eyesight and sticking laptop keys - I have the Oxford Dictionary next to my computer but sometimes I can't spell and am unable to find the correct word. -
We should as Professionals use correct english.
Regards,
Tim Guy
 02 June 2008 07:59 AM
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tickner

Posts: 1229
Joined: 30 September 2001

Originally posted by: iansettle
Don't know about 'Management Speak' but with the use of text shorthand when texting messages, kids now seem to think that it is ok to use this style when doing normal writing.


It's not just the kid's sadly. I've met a few engineers who also use this style of shorthand when sending emails, and there were not "young" engineers either.

-------------------------
Mark Tickner CEng MIET
 03 June 2008 07:53 AM
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UncleFester

Posts: 67
Joined: 04 April 2006

Originally posted by: johntopham

We used to go to meetings with pre-prepared cards that had our best individual guesses as to the phrases/buzzword we hoped would appear, and play buzzword bingo (the rewards were beers in the post meeting lunches). Sometimes the discussions would be guided outrageously in an attempt to gain the advantage...


We used to do something similar - except we didn't call it 'buzzword' bingo (it had eight letters, began with 'bull' and ended in 'it'). A 5 x 5 grid of squares with a 'management' word in each square formed the bingo board. You could win a prize for four corners or 5 in a line. Special bonus prize if you scored 'win-win'; 'synergise'; 'keep in the loop'; 'think outside the box' and 'blue-sky thinking' in one line!
 03 June 2008 09:11 AM
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steve shakeshaft

Posts: 118
Joined: 20 September 2007

Did you get a bonus for "having your ducks in a row" whilst "all singing from the same hymmn sheet"?
 04 June 2008 10:40 AM
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dvaidr

Posts: 519
Joined: 08 June 2003

My past manager was a 'champion' at this.

Engineers within the organisation would take bets on how many 'managerisms' he would use in his weekly meeting.

In one meeting, he used the 'ism' "Let's leave it on the hillside overnight and check for teeth marks in the morning". I nearly fell off my seat! I suppose what he meant to say was, "Let's sunset that one".

Interestingly enough, when I've had meetings exclusivley, made up of Engineers, we have tended to stick to speaking proper england.

 09 June 2008 08:56 AM
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nicksmithphoto

Posts: 17
Joined: 28 May 2008

Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread.

I've decided to hold a poll on this on the Engineering Management website. I know that these polls are not scientific for a number of reasons, but I think it would be interesting to see what the reaction is from at least the community following this thread.

Go to the front page of the Engineering Management section of the IET website to take the poll.

Also I would like to publish in E&T magazine a column on the most irritating, funny, stupid examples of Management Speak. Having started off by saying how serious this is, I thing that there is also scope for a bit of fun.

The two best on this thread so far are:

1) 'Deep dive' - meaning (I think) 'to investigate'

and

2) 'to leave something on the hillside and check for teeth marks in the morning' - meaning (again, I think) 'to see what happens'

There are plenty more, so let's have the best examples...
 09 June 2008 10:05 AM
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jpwilson

Posts: 63
Joined: 16 May 2007

Too many people around me have started using the phrase "low-hanging fruit", with regard to the "easy win" bits of a big project: e.g. "Let's tackle the low-hanging fruit first, get a few easy wins under our belt."

We also have Town Hall meetings, which confused the heck out of me when I first joined and people were asking if I was going to the next Town Hall meeting. Eh? Why do we hold our meetings in the Town Hall? Isn't that a long walk for everyone? Won't the council mind?

I'm not even going to mention the "alligators" that live in "the swamp"...

And I've long despised the "raft" of something. A raft of proposals, a raft of new legislation, a raft of changes. What's it all doing on a raft? It's no more intellectual than saying "shedload", which is equally unnecessary.
 10 June 2008 03:58 PM
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jpwilson

Posts: 63
Joined: 16 May 2007

I have a special love for people saying, "Let's take this offline", when they really just mean "later" or "after the meeting".
 17 June 2008 03:19 PM
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hamishbell

Posts: 287
Joined: 11 September 2001

Nick, I'm afraid that your idea has been overtaken by the BBC see HERE. I'm sure there must be a phrase for that! It's amazing how you think you have a good idea, only to then see numerous prior examples. Still, a good try which lightened the moment.
Regards
Hamish

-------------------------
Hamish V Bell, BSc, CEng, FIET, FCQI, CQP
2007 - 2010, Vice President and Trustee

Edited: 17 June 2008 at 03:19 PM by hamishbell
 18 June 2008 08:50 AM
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kturff

Posts: 184
Joined: 14 August 2003

The phrase "putting some skin in the game" makes my flesh crawl.

-------------------------
Katy Turff
Programme Manager
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
 18 June 2008 11:49 AM
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jhudson

Posts: 25
Joined: 26 April 2007

Let's touch base - this phrase really annoys me.

Julie Hudson
Regional Co-ordinator
Local Networks

-------------------------
Julie Hudson
Community Online Development Executive
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
 18 June 2008 01:43 PM
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RogerJSmith

Posts: 2
Joined: 23 April 2003

A phrase that annoys me is 'for free'.
For is a preposition, to be followed by a noun, but free is an adjective. So we should say "Get this item free" or "Get this item for nothing".
It is a pity that Latin has been dropped from the school curriculum. Latin really taught us how language works, and helped with logical thinking for science students into the bargain!

Roger Smith, CEng, MIEE
Retired Power Engineer

PS Why do I need to select an Emotion in the message window?
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