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Blues-Sky Thinking and Actionable Core Competencies

Mar 2015

Language ,


Management Speak

Have you ever found yourself called into your boss’ office to touch base, loop back and report on your incentivised deliverables? While I hope you have avoided such a stress-inducing experience, it’s unlikely that you have survived this far without coming into contact with the bizarre phenomenon that is management speak.

If you’re unfamiliar with management lingo, it might be best for you to stop reading here. I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to expose you to such infuriatingly obscure language, laden with obtuse imagery, inside references and patronising obfuscation.

Then again, perhaps you want to take a gander under into the inner office workings and see the results of 360-degree thinking.


Upskill and Drill-down

Given time, all industries will develop their own particular quirks of language. Watch a parliamentary debate or court case and you’ll quickly appreciate just how different their speech are to everyday English.

And it’s the same in the office, too, except management speak is a much younger phenomenon. Following the decline of traditional industry, our economy shifted towards information and service. Old jobs and workplaces declined and new workplaces evolved. The new workplaces brought new things that needed new words so people devised new terms influenced by nearby reference points.

Sports gifted us the ballpark figure, literature bite your tongue and religion blue-sky thinking.

Others terms simply evolved from our penchant for self-aggrandisement. By defining our work and roles as more important, they were more important. These terms sprung up around nothing and tend to fluff and plump language without really adding anything. It is a way of speaking lambasted by many as anti-language.

Why hold a meeting when you can touch base offline? Why hand me a piece of paper when you can cascade relevant information?

Of the two, it is the latter sort of language that riles people. It’s using four words where one will do and it’s confusing communication.


Plain English

The obfuscation of office language has got so bad that jargon buster Chrissie Mayer launched a campaign for clarity back in 1979.

Under the Plain English Campaign banner, Mayer and her co-campaigners have been pushing for the abandonment of “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information” across government departments and other official organisations.

The Plain English Campaign helped draft the Bill of Rights for post-apartheid South Africa and the new constitution of Ghana.

The campaign has even spawned its own certification mark, the Crystal Mark. Used by 1,600 organisations across the world, the Crystal Mark signifies that an organisation wishes to present information with the utmost clarity and conciseness.

So what do Mayer et al have against management speak? Is there really much harm in letting a few suits have fun shifting the goalposts, thinking outside boxes and taking language to the next level?

Apparently, yes.

According to a survey published in 2014, staff within large corporate organisations admit to using management lingo as a means to disguise their incompetence.

Haven’t finished a report? Better mention blame the client-focused approach. Spending too much time on Facebook? Time to claim your workload is exceeding your bandwidth.

Perhaps Mayer is right. Perhaps it’s time we simply said what we meant and got on with life.


What are your favourite management buzzwords? Loop back via Facebook or Twitter.


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