Corporate Speak and How to Beat It

Corporate Speak and How to Beat It


Photo by  NBC - The Office


Whether you call it management speak, business jargon or corporate speak, you're most likely familiar with the meaningless phrases and buzzwords that saturate today's business meetings and email communications. If you've ever seen Ricky Gervais' The Office (either the U.K. or U.S. version), you know what I'm talking about. We were all able to laugh at the general ineptitude and overuse of corporate speak demonstrated by David Brent and Michael Scott. But why was it so funny? Because we could relate to it.

We all know managers who communicate in this manner. Managers tend to jump on the latest buzzwords and theories to dazzle us, their IT drones, with their brilliance and "Big Picture" (it's capitalized to highlight the importance of those who think about it) analysis gained from the latest weekend training course or seminar. To our further amusement, some even dip into phrases actually used in The Office.

As IT pros, we also noted that the series rarely featured our profession, with the exception of one memorable episode in which IT was recruited to find out who had grafted the boss's face onto a pornographic image. Perhaps a reason for IT's virtual absence in the series is the fact that our jargon means something, but is often too technical for mainstream viewers.

"Let's Take It Offline"

These days, IT is no longer regarded as a mere support function. Instead, it's seen as instrumental in enhancing processes for all departments and essential for company advancement. This obviously marks a positive shift in perspective, but it also means that we have to attend interdepartmental meetings where we are exposed to corporate speak from multiple departments, many of which use our terms incorrectly.

At these meetings, "taking it offline" has nothing to do with taking a network or website down. Instead, it's corporate speak for "we like your ideas but we will discuss it ourselves and we will make the final decision." "Bandwidth" is no longer linked to traffic capabilities; it's just a vague reference to the lack of ability or resources to complete a task.

But perhaps most irritating of all is the constant repetition of the term "cloud computing." Some people would have you believe that it's some type of revolutionary new era of computing where "bleeding edge" hardware resources are suspended in actual clouds, are not subject to the Earth's gravitational pull and offer a world of business opportunities to companies fortunate enough to be a part of it. Fortunately, we know what it is. It's a portion of a server farm that you lease (hardly a new concept), and just because something is on the internet does not mean it is in the cloud.

How Long Is a Piece of String?

As IT pros, we can fight back. We can use our own terms, some of which may actually originate in IT. If not, no problem; we can dip into astrology, engineering, fantasy and science fiction to demonstrate our points. We can advocate for "The Kobayashi Maru" as a way to "do more with less." We can answer non-specific queries with "How long is a piece of string?" The possibilities are endless.

Respond to "There is no I in team" by saying, "But there is in IT, so [insert preferred expletive here]." In fact, use every incidence of corporate jargon to devise several corresponding catchphrases of your own. Talk about jitter, handshakes, buffering, encryption, load balancing and more, but add common terms from other industries. Forget "boiling the ocean." Be more inventive; refer to harvesting sunflower seeds on a distant and little-known planet or determining the impact of ESD on a typical tube of toothpaste.

Closing the Loop

Unfortunately, those who use corporate speak rarely appreciate sarcasm and could react by downsizing your department, restructuring the workforce or streamlining the organization. In each case, the end result is the same: "You're fired, buddy."

Therefore, an alternative reaction to corporate speak (and probably the best one) is to request clarification in every instance. It may annoy your jargon-loving colleagues, but it will not undermine your professionalism. After all, we are plain-speaking technical people who would never criticize those who think about the Big Picture without understanding its components.

All we are seeking is clear direction that we can use to engage our team of code monkeys. We recognize that clear direction is the product of hours spent in the idea shower, but without it, we can't take our first step on the strategic staircase, we'll never get all our ducks in a row and, even though we're giving 110 percent, we won't be able to take it to the next level.

Any questions? My door is always open.

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