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No More Jargon: Stop the Madness

I’ve never been a fan of business jargon and acronyms but lately I just want to scream every time I hear it. My inner dialogue is getting louder and nastier by the day. I fear that one day soon I will slip and say something out loud. It’s clearly me and not you. There is nothing new to report about the over use of jargon. What is new is my observation that communicating clearly with each other is hard enough and gobbledygook just makes it impossible.

Here’s your quiz for the week. Please define these words: empowerment, employee engagement, strategic vision, change management, toxic culture, agility, resilience, innovation, customer focus, results oriented, alignment, synergy (barf!). Yes, yes, yes, I know each of these words can be clearly defined and understood in a vacuum. But when a team is meeting and tosses those words around there is an assumption that everyone is operating from the same definition. When I say “customer focus” I generally mean paying attention to the needs of my customers. But do I mean put the customer first over all other priorities? Do I mean circumventing policies to meet the specific needs of an individual customer? Do I mean the customer is always right? Or am I just giving lip service because “customer focus” is on our list of desired staff behaviors…just like every other company in the land? My point is, does “customer focus” actually mean anything these days?

Innovation. Again, the current standard for all. I see how it is useful for my tech and marketing clients. But banks and CPA firms and hospitals and nuclear facilities?? I don’t know about you but the thought of my accountant getting “innovative” makes me very worried. Yet, honest truth, these sectors have jumped on the bandwagon.

And don’t even get me started on “employee engagement”. Every company is being measured to death and producing remarkably thick and segmented reports to the executive team. When I scan through these documents I can’t tell if “employee engagement” is all about teamwork or executive team effectiveness or understanding the strategy or work-life balance or career opportunities or compensation satisfaction or a zillion other things. It seems to mean that “employee engagement” is really an extensive survey of every aspect of the organization. Which makes my next question, so now what? I’ve watched executives pour over these reports and read what is most relevant to their own performance then worry about how they stack up against their peers and then identify one thing they can do differently to change their ratings on the next survey and disregard the other 125 pages of the report. So maybe “employee engagement” actually means leadership evaluation? As an employee, do you feel more engaged because of some specific action or program after the survey results are issued? Does “engaged” mean happier or more productive? If you aren’t engaged enough, does that mean that you are looking for another job?

As someone who used to be in charge of employee engagement surveys and follow up, I didn’t comprehend the value then and I get it even less all these years later.

My major point here is that buzz words rarely mean much. They are lazy substitutes for having a meaningful discussion. Some believe that saying the words over and over again will actually create actions and behaviors that demonstrate the catch phrase. I have yet to observe a staff acting with great “agility” (whatever that means!) unless they observe the senior team doing the same and rewarding others for those behaviors. I have never seen a “toxic culture” become healthy without massive effort and courage from the leadership team.

I propose that executives speak plain english minus the jargon and focus their attention on being as effective as possible. Model the behaviors and insights and decision making that you want to see throughout the staff. If you do, chances are you will notice that the staff is engaged, resilient and aligned.

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