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What's in a name – Bingo!

August 11, 2009 Articles, Communication No Comments

Bingo

Not all business-speak is jargon – some of it can even be useful. The trouble is, there’s so much nonsense spoken in workplaces these days that it’s easy for valuable concepts to be tarred with the “office-speak” brush.

Recently the BBC ran a story on the “business phrases we love to hate”.  It was not intended to be a survey.  However, email responses to the article poured in from all over the world.  Here (in no particular order) are some of the 50 terms that were sent to the BBC:

  • Going forward
  • Incentivise (or if you’re in the US, incentivize)
  • Let’s touch base about that offline
  • Loop back
  • I’ve got you in my radar
  • Looking under the bonnet
  • Pre-prepare
  • Forward planning
  • From the get-go
  • 360 degree thinking
  • Actioning

And here are some of the items that are said to be changing our language:

  • “challenge” instead of “problem”
  • “conversate” used to describe a conversation
  • “How can I help in this space?” instead of “How can I help?”
  • “and also in addition …”
  • “110%” (or even 200%) instead of 100%
  • “granuality” instead of “detail”
  • and a new one sent in by one reader who said her company has now banned the word “brainstorm” because it might have negative connotations associated with fits. The suggested change? “Idea shower”.

And so on.

Now many of us have probably played or at least seen the “Business BS Bingo” game which often surfaces after surveys or articles such as this.  If you haven’t, it’s quite simple.  People attending a business meeting get issued with a paper grid of 25 business phrases.  First to hear five of the listed phrases down, across or diagonally is the winner!  (They are also supposed to jump up and shout out “B … S … !” – not sure whether that happens)

Now you might say this sounds like a lot of fun.  The sad thing is that some of the genuinely important business phrases that have real meaning, are starting to be abused to the extent that many people now consider they belong on this list of “nonsense business phrases”.

As a management consultant, my particular concern is for the word “stakeholder”.  It too was on the BBC’s list of 50 and was used by the TV news presenter to wrap up the news item as his “most hated”.  The word stakeholder is now being used instead of customer, supplier, owner, employee, community and industry.  Unfortunately, in many instances, the word is being used with no real purpose and so the real group that it is intending to describe, is not identified.  It has become a “catch all”.

“Stakeholder” has been around in the business vocabulary for at least the last 20 years.  Serious students of organisational development will appreciate that there are only six stakeholder groups:

  • customers
  • suppliers
  • owners
  • employees
  • the community and
  • the industry.

Stakeholder mapping of these groups is used by many successful organisations as part of their strategic planning and ongoing management to:

  • Identify exactly who makes up each stakeholder group (for example, many organisational failures and disasters can be traced to the inability to identify the organisation’s true customers – think the recent FAA debacle)
  • Develop a statement of intent as to how the organisation intends to be seen by each stakeholder group – these statements then form the basis of all organisational policy
  • Identify how each stakeholder group currently sees the organisation (and particularly its performance)
  • Track organisational progress against achievement of stakeholder intent (for example the Balanced Scorecard approach)
  • and more . . .

My worry is that the word will become misused.  So misused, that managers and particularly senior managers, who have responsibility for setting the organisational direction, will see “stakeholder” as a nonsense word and shy away from the benefits of using it as a genuine strategic tool.  I wonder what we will have to do “going forward”?


About the Author -

Bob Selden is the author of the best-selling “What To Do When You Become The Boss” – a self-help book for new managers – see details at http://www.whenyoubecometheboss.com/. He’s also coached at one of the world’s premier business schools, the Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and regularly advises managers around the globe on their current challenges. Please add your comments to this article or contact Bob via http://www.nationallearning.com.au/contact if you would like some free advice on your current management challenge.

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