In our bungling efforts to ape our American cousins in everything they do, UK managers constantly adopt buzz-words and new-speak phrases from across the Atlantic in order to appear edgy and cool. They’re often substitutes for words and phrases seen as negative or counter-productive, but they can have the opposite effect – making management seem out of touch and decidedly uncool – like your mum telling you your new trainers are “very flash.” Anyone who’s ever had a job will likely have heard one of the following phrases at some point, but has anyone ever found them empowering and confidence-building?
Getting some “face-time” isn’t meant to carry the violent or sexually charged connotations it may suggest to some, but instead simply refers to seeing someone in the same room and talking. A fine example of business brains lashing together two nouns in an attempt to turn the humdrum task of talking to someone into a hip and edgy enterprise.
People don’t have qualifications or even skills any more. Now we have “skill-sets.” Things we can do are “within our skill-sets” and things we can’t are “outside our skill-sets.” In a way it takes part of the blame away from us for not being able to do something – “it’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just outside my skill set.”
One of the more antiquated phrases, but one that persists in the office environment and beyond. Stemming from a time when the space race was the epitome of complex science, the term has since often been replaced by “brain surgery.” A contemporary equivalent could be the snappy “it’s not a European Union bailout package negotiation.”
Potential is one of many words that can often have an “-ise” stuck on the end by over-zealous managers and team leaders. The sound alone jazzes up any word, and is perfect when added to the positive, can-do word “potential.” We are now all encouraged to potentialise ourselves and our work. “Do your job,” is essentially what we are being told.
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Another term adopted from America, and derived from a baseball reference, “touching base” is used to mean getting in contact with and perhaps getting a quick appraisal of a project or task. The touchy-feely inference can leave some recipients of the term cringing.
Think outside the box
Not only reserved for boardrooms and offices anymore. Many of us chirp that we should be “thinking outside the box” when a problem arises. Overuse has drained any meaning the term might once have had, and now just means, “think of something that hasn’t been said already.”
Companies and organisations are constantly “going forward” nowadays. Where they were headed before is anyone’s guess, but things must now be done “as we go forward,” and "in order for us to go forward." Going forward is used to mean any time in the future after the phrase has been said.
Everything must be robust in an organisation – from the chairs to the business plans. Politicians are also constantly judging policies on how robust they are. Not an inherently useless phrase, it is a real word with a real meaning. However, when it’s only being used as a substitute for “good” it’s just more corporate babble.
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A term used to describe new ideas that are usually unfettered by the person having considered their practicalities. An extension of “thinking outside the box,” staff may be encouraged to “try some blue-sky thinking” if traditional answers to a problem are deemed unsatisfactory. This kind of task is best suited to mindlessly-optimistic, hopelessly-unpractical types.
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Usually used to refer to money, ring-fencing is when a fund is treated as separate and is protected from being dipped into or lowered. Governments use the term a lot, but the corporate world also loves to “ring-fence” projects and resources that can only be accessed by certain people.
We’re not allowed to have problems anymore (in many companies there are “only solutions” anyway). Instead we have issues or challenges. These are seen as much better than problems, because a company with problems is not one that breeds confidence in investors and customers.
It’s not enough to do our jobs, we now have to deliver results. “Can you deliver that by Monday?” “Has he delivered?” Like birthday boys and girls waiting for the postman and weeing themselves with excitement, managers are always waiting for the next promising delivery.
End of play
Sports analogies are often used in business, presumably to create an atmosphere of teamwork and everyone being in it together. Each day is another match that must be fought through, until the “end of play” when we slap each other on the backs and jog off to the showers together, bruised but invigorated.
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If we want to improve our “skill-set” we must first “up-skill.” Training has given way to up-skilling in many companies, because it’s not that we’re untrained, it’s that we simply have to upload new skills, like cyborgs plugging ourselves into the company mainframe.
If you are doing something correctly you are following “best practice.” If you’re using the toilet brush to clean the pots and pans it’s not that you’re doing it wrong, you just aren’t using best practice. Only companies that are weak and unsuccessful have staff members who can be wrong.