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Five corporate buzzwords that are killing productivity

Frank Reinelt of Mindjet discusses how the business world has become littered with jargon, what it all means and how it actually hinders productivity.
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Anyone who works in business will be aware of the vast and constantly changing number of buzzwords used to describe particular tasks or demands. While some find a valuable place in our diction, many range from the annoying to the laughable.

Most business catch-phrases refer to some sort of productive activity or innovation, however, how many of these initiatives actually lead to effective implementation or a real action? A recent survey by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) revealed that management jargon is used in 64 per cent of offices, however, a quarter of employees consider it pointless or an irritation.

Buzzwords have become a mechanism for implying change, but not actually delivering on it. We analyse some of today’s most loathed buzzwords to help companies move away from a culture of all talk and no action:

Empower – as the English dictionary will tell you, ‘empower’ means to give someone authority or the freedom to do something. However, as the word increasingly permeates boardroom jargon, too often it is used to justify authority or vindicate one person telling another to do something.

Move the needle – reports vary but this term most likely came into being at a hedonistic 60s music festival, or a geophysicist convention discussing Krakatoa’s latest activity. Regardless, it has subsequently moved into the realms of corporate slang, allowing business leaders to maintain the pretence they have a grand plan to make serious waves in the industry. Too often, though, it encourages short termism and is used to disregard ideas that, although potentially valuable, may not demonstrate a seismic shift in a business’s immediate vision.

Drill-down – quite how dental terminology made its way into corporate vocabularies no one knows. What is certain is that this highly annoying phrase is being used to confuse, and often bypass the old fashioned virtue of looking at something in more detail.

Buy-in – essentially meaning: to get others to go along with your idea. This is an incredibly important and difficult practice. Ideas will rarely develop without the understanding and commitment of others in the organisation. Communicating the virtues and next steps of an idea is the hallmark of great leaders – and you can guarantee none of the greats used the phrase ‘buy-in’.

Issue – commonly used when businesses are too scared to declare something ‘a problem’, in the fear it might provoke panic amongst the masses. “There are few issues to do with project A” is regularly heard in most offices. But what if the ‘issue’ is a considerable threat to the company’s health? Declaring it as such, rather than dressing it down as an ‘issue’, will more likely prompt a response or idea to solve it.

Although not always the case, the terms above can be seen as ways to sidestep the age-old ‘issues’ that every business faces – the ability to overcome problems, continually innovate and become more productive.

Rarely have these integral aims been achieved by a handful of decision makers acting alone. True productivity involves the whole business (so long as they ‘buy-in’), from top to bottom. Aimless language provides only another barrier, or a layer of confusion, between employers and employees. This can’t be a good thing and will often hinder progress.

Successful companies need to ensure the correct processes and structures are in place to harness the full creativity of a workforce and foster innovation. Most businesses and employees complain that bridging the ideas to action gap is a day-to-day problem, as too few become reality. A recent Accenture report showed that 53 per cent of employees believe their company does not support ideas from people at all levels of the workforce – a clear and needless barrier to innovation.

Without an effective procedure to (‘dill-down’) cultivate and analyse ideas, as well as the support and infrastructure to develop them, businesses will find genuine productivity hard to come by – and ultimately fail to ‘move the needle’ very far.

Frank Reinelt is VP northern Europe, UK & emerging markets at Mindjet

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