Why businesss people speak like idiots

that’s the title of one of the books I picked up from the library the other day. I tend to get a kick out of these types of books – how can one not when the opening line is:

Let’s face it: Business today is drowning in bullshit.

Having recently finished a degree in business administration (after many years of running my own businesses), I have a decent suspicion about where all of this bullshit language begins its early stages of life. There are other names for it: corporate double-speak,  management mumbo-jumbo, spin doctoring, etc.

Or, as my wife has coined it (and she figures she should trademark this)… jargonomics.

I tend to stick with the term: bullshit.

However, one might fairly label me as vulgar… but let me give you an example from the business world.

There is a worldwide weapons manufacturer that has an elaborate corporate social responsibility code – or CSR as management-speak would have it. Now, yes, I understand that there are many people that figure weapons manufacturers are vitally important to world security and the like. And, they employ over 100,000 people worldwide – which is great for the global economy. Not to mention that the arms trade globally is a trillion dollar business.

But is there not irony in documents and pictures of employees in a weapons manufacturing plant with “SAFETY” plastered all over the place. Or,as the opening letter to the 65 pg “Code of Conduct” (yeah that’s 65 pages) document that every of the 100,000 employees is expected to read (you can download it in many different languages – and not to mention that 100,000+ copies would make this compete with some best sellers for copies in print) states:

This code sets our principles of business conduct and standards I expect us all to follow, regardless of location or role. These are not new, but are drawn from our policies and collated into a single document with guidance to explain what it means to us.

This Code will help us to achieve that aim…

Yes, “aim” being the operative and ironic word here.

If you come across anything which you are not sure about because it seems wrong or you need advice, then please speakup. I am personally committed to creating an environment where people feel comfortable that they can raise the  issues without fear of retaliation. Every one of us is required to uphold this commitment.

Our business conduct really matters to me and the whole management team. It is essential to sustaining our personal and collective reputations. The Code should help you to decide how to act if you are ever in doubt.

And the letter is signed by the Chief Executive of the company. Now, I mean no disrespect to the individuals that work for this particular company or the folks that wrote the document – but come on… your living is largely making and selling stuff that blows people up, why write elaborate documents mired in double-speak suggesting ethics are of the highest importance?

I looked through the 65-page code of conduct and couldn’t find anything that provided guidance, for example, the ethical challenges of say… “children come to work with mom or dad day”.

On the website, which also documents alphabetically all of the weapons systems available, are explanations such as in the “homeland security” section:

In land border and perimeter security, […..] has developed a number of systems to maintain and enhance the security and integrity of national boundaries.  And [….] environments have added significant benefits to advanced risk mitigation and systems integration. We also offer simulation and modelling for pre and post event planning.

“enhancing the integrity of borders” curious concept – and one can safely assume that lots of words ending in ‘tion’ mean you are well within the realm of jargonomics or business fog. I am also assuming that in “event planning” they are not referring to the upcoming toastmasters meeting, or parent advisory council.

I could continue on at length with many other ridiculous examples of the jargonomics flood that pervades so many aspects of our lives – however, I would then be straying rather far from the focus of this blog.

As such, I would then need to develop some rigorous benchmarks and document blogging best practices to ensure that the sustainability of my language either maintained or enhanced my performance objectives, strategies and tactics. Furthermore, I want to ensure that I am building robust networks of strategic assets, so as to have greater flexibility and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions. (this last sentence is largely from an Enron annual report)

Now it might be viewed by some as a bit extreme to start drawing comparisons between the corporate double-speak language of weapons manufacturers and the language surrounding looking after wild salmon. However, it’s not the actual line of work that I am looking to highlight, simply the emptiness of a lot of the language.

And, not just the emptiness of the language – but the fact that so many words, concepts and phrases have basically become clichés, management-speak, and weasel words (as author Don Watson labelled the subtitle to his book Death Sentences).

Clichés, weasel words, and management-speak in reference to wild salmon? I’ll get to that in my next post….

spin doctoring

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