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As an interim I get the privilege of working with many clients. I get to see all sorts of organisations and meet many people - staff, managers, union officers to name but a few. Something I’ve noticed is the direct negative relationship between ostentatious use of jargon and achievement.

Imagine two organisations. One large, one not so large. Both with a similar pressing need: to introduce a radical change to the way the organisation works and how their people are directed and rewarded, or some other vital and urgent requirement.

The larger has the resource to engage an internationally known consultancy whose intellectual horsepower is phenomenal, as is their way of managing projects. The chosen consultancy has experience, expertise and a depth of theoretical knowledge that is unrivalled. But they do love meetings. Sadly, the client organisation has many staff who love meetings too. They flit (hence my name for them: ‘meeting moths’) from room to room with their Moleskin notebooks and pens of different colours, laptops and iPads, eager to join the next gathering (and why not, it’s easier than a real job)

When they arrive, by silent universal agreement, a competition begins, to use the most absurd phrases. Let me quote some :


  • We don’t point something out, we ‘call it out’
  • We don’t misuse time, we ‘burn it’
  • We don’t examine something in detail, we ‘stare at it’
  • We don’t understand, we ‘put our arms around’
  • We don’t have a process or procedure, we have a ‘construct’
  • We don’t make contact with, or talk to, we ‘reach out’
  • We don’t have a pressing need, we have a ‘burning platform’
  • We don’t have capacity, we have ‘bandwidth’
  • We have ‘granularity’ not detail
  • We have ‘paradigm shift’ or even cooler ‘delta’ not change 


And no doubt you know many more of these irritating mid - Atlantic absurdities.

Now let’s turn to the smaller organisation where a CEO and the Board are close to the business, know what it needs and agree it. No euphemisms, no jargon (I know one CEO who when told ‘We’re going on a journey’ said ‘Great. I’ll get my coat’) So, unfashionably they agree the aims and plan. All the staff are told - and understand because from start to finish the language hasn’t clouded the issue! Isn’t that a better way?

My point is that it’s not simply about sounding ridiculous - buzzwords actually cloud issues. they aren’t designed to achieve anything, they are used to show membership of a particular group. And that group whips itself into a frenzy of impenetrable nonsensical groupthink. 

Buzzwords are an infallible indicator that an organisation has too many non-productive staff giving time and attention to something not remotely useful. To say nothing of the cost of all those fancy notebooks, coffee and biscuits. Please, please let’s make a concerted effort to communicate with one another clearly and sensibly. It’s only by behaving in that way can we ever hope to create clear plans that can be explained to others - clarity and precision are important, as is regard for the audience. How awful is it to tell an employee, the sole breadwinner, of 25 year’s service that they are to be right-sized’? And what if their immediate manager hasn’t attended the jargon class and thinks right-sizing means putting someone in a diet? (I have witnessed this, honestly)

And don’t get me started on the rule that numbers up to ten are written in full …. Or why the first ten minutes of any conference call are a waste of time (‘who’s here … has someone just joined … can you put your phones on mute …what’s that noise….is Eric on the call … shall we wait……’

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