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Corporate Speak: The Worst Cliches

If you’re new to corporate life, prepare to be besieged by an onslaught of corporate clichés and other meaningless jargon. Human resources departments are inveterate offenders who love nothing more than providing hands-on, systematic guidance and detailed checklists for managing strategic community engagement processes; and their job advertisements typically seek candidates who have strong influencing skills within the context of multi-layered internal and key, stakeholder management. My advice is to stand firm and refuse to add to this jargonistic nonsense, even if your company constantly invokes paradigm shifts and wake-up calls about making a difference.

Last year, the Institute of Leadership and Management polled more than 2,000 managers to identify their "pet peeves". According to the survey almost a quarter of workers consider ’management speak’ to be an “irritation”. Here are some of the most maddening phrases of ’management speak’used in offices throughout the land:

Making a difference

I ended my first paragraph with this one so I’ll begin with it here. It’s a firm favourite of many managers and aspiring managers. But what does it mean? Stalin probably wanted to make a difference. It’s best to explain the impact you want to have, otherwise ‘making a difference’ can sound fatuous.

Low hanging fruit

This one’s another non-specific phrase; it refers to goals or targets that are easily achieved. But it says nothing about which tasks refer to the fruit, nor does it explain why the fruit must be picked. Clarity is what will help your team ‘go forward’ (see below), not the trotting out of tropes.

Going forward

A firm favourite at my previous place of work, this phrase means ‘in the future’, and it is one of the most overused phrases. The spirit of the phrase, I imagine, is to stop people from dwelling on current mistakes and to encourage optimism.

Blue-sky thinking

Another favourite, this phrase means ‘to think creatively’ about your work; to come up with new ideas.

Drill down

Thankfully this expression is not as frightening as it sounds.  It means to examine something in detail.

To action something

Turning a noun into a verb seems to go unnoticed these days.  I’m still struggling to understand why people cannot simply be asked to ‘do’ something.

Circle back

The good news is that this isn’t a complicated car manoeuvre. When your co-worker says “Let’s circle back”, it’s just her grandiose way of saying “Let’s meet later”. It makes no sense, whatsoever.

Touch base

Understandably, this expression is popular in America: it’s a baseball term which refers to runners touching the base for the run to be declared valid. It means to either make contact with someone or renew contact with them. But why ‘touch base’? 

Get the ball rolling

Another one from the world of sport, this simply means ‘to begin’.

Take something offline

When your co-worker says, “Let’ take this one offline”, understand that this is her way of letting you know that she doesn’t want to deal with the issue right now. Or ever.  And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the internet.

The best clichés are the original ones. The person who came up with the phrase “an accident waiting to happen” has every reason to be happy with himself. The problem with clichés today is that they are used so often that they fail to make the intended impact.

What’s your most annoying management speak? Let us know in the comments box below!         

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