Putting management jargon under the microscope: Proactively prioritising an examination of managerial discourses, paradigms and outcomes

This morning at LeadingCompany, we’ve been leveraging our content in order to better network our paradigms, all the while orchestrating operational setbacks with our infrastructure.

Meaning, we’ve been giggling at the antics of @managerspeak, a Twitter account that parodies the verbose yet empty jargon so many businesspeople have to put up with. And we’ve had some website troubles (they should be fixed now).

Making fun of the way managers, academics and bureaucrats speak is a healthy pastime for journalists, and others who love the English language. We’re glad we’ve found a Twitter account to deliver us such mirth, 140-characters at a time.

Some of our favourites:

  • “It is our job to interactively productise quality solutions so that we may continue to completely fashion best-of-breed benefits.”
  • “We must optimise stakeholder value by proactively adding value holistically from the lowest levels.”
  • “There’s synergy in the ecosystem. Operationalise mission-critical mindshare while we have this window of opportunity.”

But, the growing use of such language is no laughing matter. As author and celebrated political speechwriter Don Watson wrote in his 2003 book, Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, the language of business and management is the language of power. That’s why second-rate politicians keep using it too. The problem is once the roots of “managerialism” take hold in our speech, they corrupt the meaning and power of our language. “It enrages, depresses, humiliates, confuses. It leaves us speechless,” Watson writes.

When we speak and write this way, we lose the ability to communicate.

Here are some real-life examples Watson found among Australian companies (unfortunately, he stripped the quotes of direct attributions):

  • “Our procedures in respect of the audit of the concise financial report included testing that the information in the concise financial report is consistent with the full financial report, and examination on a test basis, of evidence supporting the amounts, discussion and analysis, and other disclosures which were not directly derived from the full financial report” – a financial report
  • “Discover how you can adopt innovative methods for effectively chartering (sic) future paths for portal development and ultimately make customer interaction” – a conference brochure
  • “Over the coming 12 months we will be enhancing our product offering to bring you new features and access to innovative funds. You can be confident that our commitment is resolute, to make changes that investor’s (sic) value” – an insurance company newsletter

If you’re guilty of this yourself, you need to change. As @managerspeak writes, “there’s a direct and converse relationship between competence and obfuscation.”

But don’t worry: there is help. Here are some exercises get you started, adapted from the marvellous Don Watson.

  • Rewrite this sentence without the word ‘enhancement’: “Dying in the desert was a tragedy for Burke and Wills, but an enhancement in terms of their status as icons.”
  • Rewrite this one without using ‘prioritise’: “Bourke and Wills prioritised their needs with those of their camels.”
  • Rewrite ditching ‘outcome’: “Hopefully Burke and Wills were not too disappointed in terms of the final outcome.”

Got any more? We’re all ears. It’s time to name and shame the corporations and managers who fleece our language of meaning.

This article first appeared on LeadingCompany.


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