My high school and most of my primary school English teachers would happily recount, if they could remember me, my poor command over the English language. My wife proof reads and edits this column each week to repair the damage I do to the rules of English grammar.
My lack of ability should make me feel very comfortable in the bosom of business English. Business people around the world appear to take a certain pride in making what is simple, complex. They make new words and acronyms; they give new meanings to words of which we thought we actually knew the meaning.
My favourite is the ability to add words to a phrase that adds nothing in clarity, but does add amusement if one stops to think about it.
For example, Going forward: Usually used by a CEO on a business news programme to mean the next quarter, next year or just generally some future time. So why not say so? I wonder if they have ever succeeded going backward in time? If so they should contact NASA.
Other buzzwords that amuse and sometimes frustrate me include:
Best practice: A term bandied about in business management circles and describes business tactics (and strategies) being used in successful companies. The term, however, can be misleading. The “best practices” identified may have nothing to do with the actual success of the company and are not necessarily translatable to other companies.
Actionable: A legal term that’s been co-opted by marketers and consultants to mean anything one can take action on. After completing the analysis we will be taking these three actionable steps?. One wonders how one would take ?unactionable? steps.
Fact-based management: A concept touted by business consultants for improving profits. The method is to first, evaluate and measure a given business process and then use those “facts” to streamline it. It is a truly amazing and novel concept for business.
Offline: I thought it was wherever you were when you were not on the Internet. Now it has become an office catch phrase heard frequently in meetings. ?That is a great idea; let us deal with that offline after the meeting.”
Core competencies: What a person or company does well? ?We will focus our efforts on our core competencies.” Translation: We’re selling the businesses we expanded into a few years ago but did not know anything about and are now going back to basics.
Them: Generally used in Fiji-based companies by subordinates reporting on who was responsible for completing or not competing a task. It is a way of saying ?not me? without pointing the finger at other people.
They: Not me.
Those people: Not me.
Negative growth: A positive spin on what is clearly negative but not growth. ?After two consecutive quarters of negative growth, the economy is in recession.?
Negative profit: Loss.
Customer relationship management: A term developed by Peppers and Rogers for treating customers as individuals and customizing products and services to make them happy. Large companies do this with multimillion-dollar computer systems. Small companies do it with a handshake and a smile.
Then there is the world of internet acronyms:
B2B: Business-to-business was marketing and sales across the internet from one business to another.
B2C: The consumer version of B2B.
B2B2C: You are kidding, right? Business to Business to Consumer?
B2G: You guessed it: Business-to-Government.
B2A: Business-to-anybody. Mmmm, perhaps the creator of this one was not a fan of segmentation as a business tool?
B2E: Business-to-everybody. Now that is hopeful.
Empowerment: The corporate mantra of the late ’90s used to deceive subordinates into believing they actually were allowed to think and make decisions on their own. Usually, it was applied without training and clarity about processes and parameters governing their decision making and because it did not work, decision making was then re-centralised to improve controls.
Competitive advantage: A business phrase that reflects a marketer’s propensity for overstatement and is used even when there is no data to support its use. “Our competitive advantage is great customer service.” “Advantage” used alone is just as informative and I wonder which customers were surveyed to find out whether it was or was not.
High level: To focus on the “big picture,” as in “Let’s keep this discussion on a high level.” Frequently, it is used as a way to avoid discussing the details of a project by those who really don’t really know what’s going on.
Foreseeable future: Do you know how long that is?
Customer-centric: Words like these come from the process of taking a noun and tacking “centric” to the end of it. In this case a business, product or service is focused or “centred” on the customer. “We will design our services through a customer-centric process.” What could one expect next?